A few weeks ago I started a new project learning about law enforcement policies in the area where I live. I had a series of questions that I was curious about, and rather than try and talk with people over the phone or ask an officer on the street, I filled out a public records request. I went to the National Freedom of Information Coalition where I found out how to request public records in my state (Alabama). I am asking the following questions to departments about their policies regarding:
- Officer’s use of cell phones while driving on official business.
- Providing identification to members of the public they come in contact with (requests for name, badge number, supervisor’s name, business card).
- Video and audio recording of police officers while on duty by members of the public, including any places or activities officers are instructed recording is not allowed.
- Criteria for use of the Police SWAT team for searches or warrant arrests, including criteria for the use of “no knock” and explosive breaching entries.
- Use off cell phone interception and locating tools similar to a “Stingray.” (A StingRay is a device that can triangulate the source of a cellular signal by acting “like a fake cell phone tower” and measuring the signal strength of an identified device from several locations. StingRays and other similar “cell site simulator” technologies can locate, interfere with, and intercept communications from cell phones and other wireless devices.)
- Police Department use of automated license plate reader systems.
(Some of the smaller towns I know do not have SWAT teams I didn’t ask questions 4&5.)
Submitting the records request allows for several things:
- It allows me to get the actual policies, instead of an individual’s recollection of what the department standard is.
- It gives the responding department time to get the answer right.
- I have a written record of the request.
- I avoid a series of awkward conversations with people who do not know the right answers and would start to get very defensive very fast. (Can you imagine walking up to Officer Friendly in a parking lot asking him the six questions above?)
I will keep you updated with the how my requests go.