Matthew Petti

I’ve been sending OPRA (our NJ state FOI law) requests to local police departments to see what they’re emailing and texting each other about the local congressional candidates.

One of the local PDs says that they “can’t search the entire e-mail database for these subjects.” See the following:

Does this sound plausible? I can’t see why they wouldn’t be able to. What would be a good response—either to narrow it down or to remind them of their legal obligations?

Russ Kick

Hi Matthew, I don’t consider this plausible, but it’s an extremely common response from govt agencies at all levels. Even though email management systems like Outlook allow an admin to instantly search multiple/all accounts, lots of govt agencies claim that there’s just no way they can do that. They demand that you name the exact people whose email they should search. Sometimes they make absurd claims about not being able to search for emails to or from a specific domain. They often ask for narrow time frames, claiming that searching over a long period is somehow taxing. Apparently, a free Gmail account has tons more search power than their systems. Anyway, there’s not a whole lot you can do in these situations other than narrow your request in the way(s) that they’ve demanded. (To help with future requests, you could make a request to the Patterson PD for the administrative manual and other documentation for their email system. Then you’ll know for sure what types of searches are possible.)