Who are Seattle’s Super Public Records Requesters? Secondly, how much does such action cost the institutions (tax payers) fulfilling their requests?

As data sets in all organizations grow as technology advances, so does the desire/need/law require such data be available to the public via public disclosure legislation. With the advent of new technologies in Law Enforcement new types of data are being stored and used then in years past. This creates a host of new issues that SPD and other public institutions face if they want to fulfill the value of transparency. Thus, serial requesters have/are requesting such data for the public at large.

Let’s take a look at who are SPDs top Public Records Requesters since March 2016 (provided by SPD after receiving records request).

We also have data collected of top requesters from Blake Harrison’s PRA impact report:

In the study “THE IMPACT OF COMPLIANCE WITH THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT: THE CITY OF SEATTLE (2011-2015) Blake Harrison intends to lay out the enormous costs of serial requesters as a result of the Public Records Act. Put generally, the top ten requesters for public records accounted for 15-20% of the total requests as well as the money and time spent on those requests.

From the graphic above one can conclude that a single Public Records Request costs on average between $75 - $85. SPD when compared to all other Seattle orginizations recieves 74% of all public records requests in the year 2015. I’ll restate that the top ten requesters accounted for 15-20% of the total requests.

Given this data the author of this study concludes:

I believe the conclusion the author comes to is mistaken on two fronts. The first being that the Act needs to be changed in order to solve the problem he presents. I’d offer the following alternative: Use the data types that the serial requesters are asking for as a guide to what is to be included in Seattle’s Open Data Policy. More generally, use the serial requesters as tools to better accommodate public records requests at large as well as understanding how to make the process more efficient. Blake Harrison’s response seems simply to blame the serial requesters and infer that they are wasting resources. Thus, if data is easily searchable and archived in a way that makes the review/redaction more streamlined and efficient→everyone wins! . This can be done in both data that is accessible to the public on the web as well as the data that needs to be researched/reviewed/redacted by City Employees.

The City has in place a policy and a purpose that seem to align with the values of Seattle Public Records but has yet to realize on that idea. It would make sense for the city to work with organizations like Seattle Public Records to make this process of providing public documents to the public more efficient and less burdensome.

The second issue in the conclusion I have an issue with is the author’s claim that less people are interested in public records since the number of requesters has dwindled a bit. I believe the existence of the Seattle Open Data project and organizations like this one show an inspired and extremely civically engaged electorate here in Seattle (and elsewhere) with a specific focus on a transparent government. There is so much new data out there that people, including the people making initial requests, do not yet know how it will be useful but will never know if not given the opportunity.

The City of Seattle should not put the onus of public records cost on serial requesters or the Public Records Act. The City should instead put in the work to make the records easily available to the public which, once the infrastructure and practice is in place on the organizational and requester level, would save both the citizens and government officials a lot of time and money.