It's a beautiful day here, outside of the Tempe City Hall and police department, but our blood is boiling because of the PD's ignorance of public-records law.
Tempe police apparently never got the memo Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne sent to the state in December: Taking pictures of public records as part of the inspection process is the public's right under Arizona law.
But after we were kicked out of the police lobby by a couple of mindless bureaucrats...
UPDATE: City Attorney Judi Baumann got back to us soon after we published this article, though we don't think she'd seen it yet. She told us she had no problem with us taking pictures of public records and chalked up the incident in this blog post to mis-communication with PD staff. Based on that, we changed her grade from an "F" to an "A-," marking her down slightly because we wasted all morning trying to educate the PD about Horne's ruling, when that should have been the city attorney's job.
Here's what happened before we talked to Baumann:
While taking photographs of a police report in the police lobby, a female officer told us to stop and to pay $10 for the report.
She asked what made us think we could take pictures of records without paying for them.
"Public records law has been interpreted by our Attorney General to --" we started.
She interrupted that she'd have to talk to Sergeant Michael Pooley, the police public-information officer. So we stopped taking photos and waited. And waited.
Finally, Chief Tom Ryff's assistant, Charles Cobb, a civilian employee, came downstairs and chatted with us, saying the city has every right to charge $10 for the report even if we take no copies with us. We told him he was wrong, and that if he looked at the state Attorney General's website under the "opinions" section, he could read about how he was wrong.
He said he didn't have time for that, while escorting us from the building before we could inspect the rest of the records. We asked him who told him to tell us we couldn't photograph records. He said no one and that he was doing this on his own. We responded that if that was true, he should think for himself and look at the AG's website with us, which he took as an insult.
Yet here's what Cobb would have read if he hadn't been so obtuse: "A public body cannot charge a copying fee when a member of the public inspects a record and makes a copy of the record using his or her own personal device."
Neither can the public entity charge for its time to produce the copy, although some politicans and bureaucrat -- including Horne, sadly -- would like to change that with a new state law.
Sure, we're argumentative about the issue. A few years ago, after getting into a squabble about the same subject with Sheriff Joe Arpaio's outside attorney, Michele Iafrate, deputies showed up at our door and served us with notice that we were being charged with a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct. (That happened on the same day, October 18, 2007, that then-New Times executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested on bogus charges, under the corrupt leadership of disgraced former County Attorney Andy Thomas.) We had to fight that one for a year before prosecutors dropped the case.
(One more aside: The Sheriff's Office reversed its policy and began allowing picture-taking of public records a while back, to its credit. The Phoenix Police Department and Arizona Department of Public Safety also have no problem with a photographic inspection.)
We walked to the inverted-pyramid building where Andrew Ching, Tempe city manager, works. He wasn't in. A security guard called over to the City Attorney's Office and was told that the city attorney, through her assistant, had informed him that we were not permitted to photograph public records.
We tried to visit the city attorney, Baumann, in a different building. But she had just begun a conference call, her assistant said, and it might take an hour or more. We were welcome to wait.
We decided to spend the time writing this blog post. Now we'll go see if Baumann's off the phone and if we can finish what we started.
It's not always easy to get cops and bureaucrats to follow the law, but we'll give it our best shot.
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BACK TO UPDATE: As mentioned, all's well that ends well. We received the report at the PD, after waiting a while, and now we're back to inspecting it -- with our camera, naturally.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.