Maine Governor tells law enforcement agencies to release public records

MAINE — Gov. John Baldacci signed two pieces of legislationin May that will force law enforcement agencies to comply with the state’sfreedom of information law. The first law requires all law enforcementagencies to write and adopt a policy explaining how they comply with the MaineFreedom of Access Law, and each agency must also provide training to theirofficers on how to respond to requests. The law states that the Maine CriminalJustice Academy must establish standards for each agency’s policy.Thelegislation was introduced in response to a statewide public records audit thatfound many public agencies were not complying with the freedom of informationlaw, which is intended to ensure that the public has access to governmentrecords. The audit, which was conducted on November 19, 2002, by the MaineFreedom of Information Coalition, involved more than 100 volunteer auditors whotraveled to 310 state offices to request access to public documents.TheFOI Coalition reported that police departments denied access more than any otherpublic office. More than a third of the 74 police departments turned downrequests for access to public records, including daily incident reports andpolice logs.Although the Maine Freedom of Access Law does not requirepeople to identify themselves when requesting public documents, the FOICoalition reported that many auditors were asked to present identification,identify their employers or state the reason for their request.The FOICoalition recommended that Maine lawmakers “address the cost of reproduction ofpublic documents and develop standards for what is fair and reasonable.” It alsoasked the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine School Management Associationand the Maine Chiefs of Police Association “to make greater efforts to providetraining and ensuring that members abide by Maine’s Freedom of Access Law.”The Coalition also suggested that police department and school districtsconsider written policies for office staff to respond to requests forinformation.”The Coalition is very pleased with the legislation becauseit is really exactly what we hoped the audit would do — prompt legislatorsto recognize that there is a problem,” said Judy Meyer, vice president of theFOI Coalition.The second piece of legislation creates a 15-membercommission, made up of representatives from the police, municipal governments,legislators, American Indian tribes and members of the press. The commissionersare scheduled to submit recommendations to the state Legislature by the end ofthis calendar year on how the Maine Freedom of Access Law should be updated tobe most effective. “The law will be looked at with a clean eye,” shesaid. “I hope there will be a thorough dusting off of the law.”