Valparaiso newspaper argues police overcharge for some records

The Valparaiso City Council in July approved a fee schedule for various police services, like providing copies of accident reports ($7) and photographs ($10). But an audio recording on compact disc will cost $150 and a video recording will cost $250. A local newspaper editorial says the public records should be made affordable, no matter how deep the likely buyer’s pockets are.

 

Police charging too much for records

By: Editorial Staff
Northwest Indiana Times

VALPARAISO, Ind. (July 8, 2004) — Valparaiso police records are compiled with tax money, but getting copies will cost you — in some cases, more than they should.

The City Council last week approved a fee schedule for various police services, like providing copies of accident reports ($7), photographs ($10), taking fingerprints ($10) and conducting criminal background checks ($10).

Those fees aren’t all that objectionable, especially since the department will continue to provide free fingerprinting for children as part of the child identification program.

But an audio recording on compact disc will cost $150. A video recording on either VHS or 8 mm tape will cost $250. Examples of these records are a 911 dispatch call and a video squad car camera’s recording of a drunken driving stop.

The police department needs to be reminded that Indiana law says the government can’t charge more for this type of public record than 105 percent of the sum of the cost of programming plus labor plus the actual cost of the blank disk or tape.

There doesn’t seem to be any programming involved in copying a tape. It’s not like sifting through a database, after all. And consumers can easily buy 100 blank CDs for less than $40 and VHS tapes for just a few dollars apiece — or even less.

So the only real factor that could legally drive up the price of these copies is labor. Just how long does it take to record a CD? And how much an hour is the person burning the CDs paid?

The city needs to justify how it came up with the fees it plans to charge for these high-priced public records while still following Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. Surely, it doesn’t cost anywhere near $150 to burn a CD.

The $7 copying fee for accident reports goes into a training fund; other fees go into the equipment fund. Those are worthwhile causes, but not worth soaking the public for copies of its own records.

The audio and video copies are more likely to be purchased by attorneys and insurance companies. The less expensive reports are more commonly sought by citizens.

But the principle is the same. These are the public’s records, not the police department’s, and should be made affordable, no matter how deep the likely buyer’s pockets are.

Setting a high price for audio and video recordings puts an unfair barrier between the public and the records the citizens are paying the government to create and maintain. If citizens want to buy these recordings, they should be allowed to do so — for a reasonable fee.