The OC Sheriff’s Department is Charging Big Bucks for Arrest Data. That’s a Problem, Transparency Advocates Say.

Last month, the publication Voice of OC requested data on arrests from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It was told the information would cost at least $1,000 — “a rate of $100.00 per hour for a minimum of ten (10) hours” for data extraction, sheriff’s officials said. That response has shed light on a glaring transparency issue in the OC.

“[Public Records Act] requests are fulfilled at no cost to the requester if the Department is able to produce it without any cost incurred. We have full-time staff that process [public records] requests to fulfill them within the given deadlines,” sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Braun said in a statement.

“In some cases, the information being requested may be contained in a database, but it takes special programming by IT contractors to extract it on a report. It is not readily available for the [public records] unit to provide.”

David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told Voice of OC that the department can charge fees it truly needs to in order to compensate contractors for time spent extracting and compiling the data. But he questions whether it’s accurate that the data has never been compiled before and isn’t already readily available. He said governments should always err on the side of openness when they can. That means not charging such fees unless absolutely necessary.

The Sheriff’s Department has never requested additional funding from the Board of Supervisors to fulfill these kinds of records requests at no cost. That may be the next logical step.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee acknowledged that the current situation appears to be a problem.

“I’d be curious on an annual basis what the budget request would be for that amount,” he told the paper.

“I generally like to support public access.”