Police Chief Chris Moore personally requested a report on prostitution arrests in San Jose after he found out that he couldn't waive fees to make the documents available to the media. (Photo by Felipe Buitrago)
San Jose citizens who want to know if the city’s becoming more dangerous will no longer have to pay the police department to find out. A key victory for public information access was scored last week when the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee—comprised of three council members and the mayor—voted unanimously to overrule a $42 charge request by the SJPD’s research unit for an annual crime stat requested by Metro.
Both the city’s public records manager and its top public information officer stood by the fee, so Metro exercised its right to appeal under the city’s Sunshine Ordinance. “Given the current fiscal situation, the Administration does not believe the City should waive the fees and absorb the cost for producing the requested records,” Director of Communications Tom Manheim wrote in a memo opposing Metro‘s appeal.
Police Chief Chris Moore, caught in a web of cost-recovery policies that prevented him from waiving the fee, apologized to council members. “This is the first time I am aware of that this wound up on the agenda of the Rules Committee,” Moore said. “I apologize for this rising to this level.”
Under city sunshine rules, staff may levy charges to members of the public who request information that is not already in document form. Since more and more information is stored in electronic databases, programming fees are charged for conducting queries.
Metro‘s crime stats request was an attempt to get some actual information on a hotly debated issue that has been the subject of fierce debate on public safety issues and police salaries and pensions. Over the last few months, various media outlets have reported anecdotal evidence that prostitution is on the rise in San Jose. The police union blog, Protect San Jose, linked budget cuts with a teenage girl from Fresno being forced into prostitution as an example of the crisis. “San Jose is Becoming Sin City,” wrote a top police union in a column, and television stations broadcast images of short-skirted women standing on city sidewalks in provocative poses.