For the second year, a surprise audit found that Santa Clara County, California’s largest law enforcement agencies aren’t following laws that help the public learn about crimes, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Three big agencies got a grade of D for failing to hand over information about crimes and charging more than legally allowed for crime reports, said Californians Aware, a public information watchdog group. That was better than the F grades they received for legal compliance in an initial 2005 audit. Journalists, including two from the Mercury News, posed as citizens seeking information, and went to 116 agencies in October. The reporters asked for information about a specific burglary. They sent a written request for information about each department’s fees for different kinds of reports. This year’s audit added a new category for customer service, which was graded separately and averaged with legal compliance to produce an overall score. Customer service points were earned for such factors as friendliness and fast service. Each department received a passing grade for customer service. Scores for the first audit focused solely on legal compliance and did not factor in customer service to the overall score.
Californians Aware took points away from San Jose and many other departments for charging more than legally allowed for copies of crime and traffic reports. Victims often need these reports before their insurance companies will pay. The departments, Californians Aware counsel Terry Francke said, have a monopoly on information crime victims need. Under state law, they are allowed to charge only the cost of copying. Charging crime victims extra for reports they need “isn’t very consistent with the notion ‘to serve and protect,’ ” he said. Placer County sheriff’s deputies charge the highest fee in the state for those reports – $35 to get a copy of a crime report. San Jose charges $15.