July 28, 2014
Civil rights activist and independent journalist, Joel Chandler is founder of Florida Open Government Watch. The group conducts regular litmus tests of public records requests to see if police departments are abiding by the law.
Because of the government's inability to keep itself accountable, the duty of public records requests accountability has literally been passed on to the citizen and their ability to seek litigation.
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In 2009 the Florida Governor’s Commission On Open Government Reform delivered a 194 report. In it the blue-ribbon commission opined “...the burden of enforcing violations of Florida's open meetings and public records laws generally falls to citizens who have few alternatives other than seeking an injunction or filing suit in civil court to compel compliance.”
Luckily there are folks out there like fogwatch.org that are active in compelling compliance.
The type of records request that Joel and his crew are conducting in the video below is the simplest possible type, the jail's visitors log. The log book is literally right in front of them. All they need to do is hand it over and let the citizen review it. However, as we see in the video below the Coral Gables Police Department refuses to comply with the simplest of requests without popping up a bureaucratic barricade of paperwork.
Not only do they refuse to comply but, after they leave the jail, a Coral Gables officer walks out to Chandler's vehicle and takes down the license plate information. One could only assume that this information was going to be run through the Florida Crime Information Center in an effort to identify the men. If the police use use this database without reasonable suspicion this is a crime. Also, for the officer to cross the street to get the license plate information, he was caught on video, jaywalking, twice.
Florida laws regarding public records requests are among the most lax in the country. However you would never know this by reviewing the many instances of denials captured on video in the archives at fogwatch.org.
The following video was taken in June of 2013. It illustrates just how non-compliant the police can be when citizens request public records. Apparently the laws regarding government transparency are optional to Florida LEOs.