Question Regarding Local Jail Charging Exorbitant Fee for Daily Jail Arrest Records
1 answer from Russ Kick.
Our local jail (Oklahoma County, OK) creates a “daily jail blotter” which contains the names, other identifying information (DOB, address, sex, race) and the criminal complaints each individual booked into jail for the last 24-hours. It appears they make this list available each morning via email with a .pdf attachment. The email is sent to local media outlets at no charge and to lawyers, bail bondsmen, interlock companies, DUI schools etc. for a fee. That fee is around $300 PER MONTH! The jail claims that’s because the information is being used for ‘commercial purposes’. The jail admits the records are public and offers to allow the public to go to the jail in person each day, go down into the basement, and request to look at the blotter. However, they refuse to add members of the public to the email list unless they pay. My understanding of FOI & public records is that the state should provide those records in the easiest means possible and via a means they already utilize if possible and cannot profit from the release of those records but can charge a nominal fee (ex: $.25 page copying fee if getting physical copies or $10 fee for say a DVD of information). If they are already releasing the records daily via email at no cost to the county agency, how is best to make the argument they are obligated to send that document to the public also at little or no cost? Our local police department (OKC PD) compiles a similar list. They used to make it available at their counter but switched to posting it online daily for free. The OK CO Jail is making a lot of money monthly off these records that I believe are public records. Just need some advice if my thinking is clear and how best to make my argument. I’ve tried twice appealing to our statewide FOI Oklahoma organization (I’m a paying member), but they’ve never even acknowledged my question.
Hi, Brian: the OK Open Records Act says: “In no case shall a search fee be charged when the release of records is in the public interest, including, but not limited to, release to the news media, scholars, authors and taxpayers seeking to determine whether those entrusted with the affairs of the government are honestly, faithfully, and competently performing their duties as public servants.”
So if you can argue that releasing the blotter to you is “in the public interest,” that’s one approach.
The law also says: “The fees shall not be used for the purpose of discouraging requests for information or as obstacles to disclosure of requested information;” You could certainly argue that that’s what they’re doing by charging $300/month.
Some states require an agency to give an itemized breakdown of the fee they want to charge you. It doesn’t look like OK is one of those states, but you could still try asking. Under the law, an agency can only “charge a reasonable fee to recover the direct cost of record search and copying.” They’re basically charging you $10 for each daily blotter. Get them to tell you how much of that is for “searching” for the blotter and how much is for “copying.”
You can read the law here (starting in section 4): http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=80292
And here’s MuckRock’s page on the law: https://www.muckrock.com/place/united-states-of-america/oklahoma/