The office wants us to pay $1,354 before getting data we requested related to gang charges. Open government advocates call the charges outside the law and we explained why on Tuesday.
This statement is the office’s first response to the stories:
The District Attorney’s Office is committed to transparency and to complying whenever possible with requests made under the California Public Records Act.
At the same time, we are also committed to protecting the taxpayer from having to foot the bill for a significant amount of time and resources responding to what often amounts to a fishing expedition.
In the past three years, our office received 118 formal requests under the California Public Records Act. During that time, we requested fees to provide copies of records 15 times. This is not done to prevent the public or the media from obtaining public records — it’s done to protect the taxpayer from having to pay for such requests. As a law enforcement agency, there are also times when we are required to deny public records requests because of very real security or investigatory concerns.
In their recent post, the Voice of San Diego says “for months the District Attorney’s Office has refused to discuss the charges…” This is incorrect.
You can click here to read all of the correspondence that has occurred between the Voice of San Diego and our office over the past three months about this records request. As you’ll see, we have responded to each inquiry regarding charges for the requested statistics and have tried to help the Voice of San Diego narrow the scope of its request so it can get relevant statistics without having to reimburse us.
In the Voice of San Diego’s recent post, it is claimed that our estimate of computer services and programming fees is not proper under California law. We stand by the opinion that it is proper and legal — and that it follows the spirit of the law.
If the Voice of San Diego had merely requested copies of existing paper records, a costs-only copying fee would be appropriate. But instead, the Voice of San Diego asked us to create a completely new electronic record from our Case Management System database. A fee for that type of work is found in Government Code section 6253.9(b), covering production of electronic records under the California Public Records Act. It reads:
“(b) … [T]he requester shall bear the cost of producing a copy of the record, including the cost to construct a record, and the cost of programming and computer services necessary to produce a copy of the record when either of the following applies:…
“(2) The request would require data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record.” (Emphasis added.)
There is nothing “vague” about this provision, as the Voice of San Diego has asserted.
But let’s get back to what prompted this public records request in the first place: the Voice of San Diego’s desire to report on gang enhancement charges. Our office has already spent a good deal of time discussing gang enhancements with the Voice of San Diego — and we were happy to do so. One of our prosecutors spoke at length with Mr. Kyle on the topic for this piece that was posted on the Voice of San Diego’s website in December.
The Voice of San Diego also states that some un-named defense attorneys and researchers expressed “skepticism” that a connection might exist between some of the pimps we prosecute and gangs in San Diego. Locally, indeed nationally, street gangs are using prostitution to finance their criminal activities and recruit new members. While pimps are often gang members, the gang enhancement is only alleged when we can factually substantiate the connection between their pimping and their gang.
These gang members are violent, dangerous criminals who are committing serious crimes in our neighborhoods and exploiting vulnerable young women. The District Attorney’s Office will continue to file any charges that we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court. That is our duty as prosecutors and our commitment to our community.
It’s unfortunate that the Voice of San Diego’s focus has shifted from a genuine desire to learn more about the serious nature of gang prosecutions … to a blog about when messages are left and when phone calls are returned. We remain available to discuss how and when the gang enhancement is filed against a defendant and our office’s efforts to reduce gang violence in the county. But we will not allow the taxpayer to pay for public records requests that tie up valuable resources and personnel.
Many journalists in San Diego will tell you that the DA’s Office has good working relationships with them and the media outlets they represent. They would also say our office goes out of its way to provide statistics when requested. Most of the time, we provide stats without the filing of a formal public records request. In fact, we have even formed a committee that assists us in responding to media requests for statistics accurately and in a timely manner to help reporters who are on deadline.
The bottom line is the District Attorney’s Office works on behalf of the People. As such, we will continue to pursue justice for crime victims, to assist the media and be transparent whenever possible — and protect the taxpayer when appropriately responding to public records requests.
San Diego County District Attorney
Stay tuned for more DA Watch.
— KEEGAN KYLE