TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Resolve to FOIA your local security officers in 2012 — but leave your brass knuckles at the door

If you are studying to be a reporter or editor and haven’t taken out freedom-of-information laws for a test drive, resolve to make 2012 the year that you do. A fun and easy way to get started — one that almost guarantees some story will come of it — is to ask security agents at your campus (or your local jail, airport or courthouse) for an inventory of items they’ve confiscated.

Often, police will be only too happy not just to show you the list but to show you the actual items, so people appreciate that their jobs are dangerous (and, hopefully, remember to leave their brass knuckles in the glove compartment — c’mon, people).

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol keeps data spreadsheets of contraband seized going back to 2003 for the 327 airports, seaports and border crossings that it is charged with securing, and copies should be available through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Closer to home, it’s always interesting to see what types of weapons are being caught, and how many, at school metal detectors or by police searches.

Inventories of seized items have led reporters to bigger “trend” stories, such as the epidemic of contraband cellphones that are bedeviling prison and jail officials nationally.

While piles of seized guns and drugs may make for good TV footage, it’s equally newsworthy (and maybe moreso) if little-to-no contraband is being found, which may suggest that security precautions are ineffective or are unnecessary.