Under the public records law, many government records are considered public and must be provided to members of the public upon request, however, government agencies can charge fees. When you request public records frequently, like we do, it can get pretty expensive. For instance, we were charged $112 for records related to a police shooting, $60.60 for the Springfield Police Department's “use of force” policies, and $55.98 for a Boston police training video to name a few records requests we completed earlier this year.
Up until this point, we've been investing our own money in projects, but we're hoping from now on that our readers will be able to contribute money for public records fees. If we're able to successfully raise money this way, we'll be able to complete records requests more frequently.
For our first reader-supported project, we're trying to raise money for a document that lists all actively employed Massachusetts state troopers and the number of formal complaints that have been filed against each of them.
This information will provide some insight into police misconduct at the Massachusetts State Police Department. For instance, it should allow us to see if some state troopers are being accused of misconduct at disproportionately high rates compared to others.
An attorney representing the state police has said we will be charged a fee of $200 (see letter here) for an electronic copy of this document (likely a .pdf or spreadsheet). We hope that some generous readers will come forward with the money, so we can release this document to the public. If you're interested in donating, use the Fundly widget below to contribute.
Because we primarily handle records requests through the mail, we're also trying to raise an additional $50 for supplies like paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps to use for future records requests.
We will continue to update this post as we (hopefully) receive donations and get the document released.
We hope to raise money for more records requests this way in the future. I just mailed out a dozen records requests for a new Bay State Examiner investigation last Thursday, so we may be doing more fundraisers soon. Open public records fundraisers will be listed here. If you have any suggestions for public records requests, please send them to us here.
Update (8/23/14): I'm pleased to announce that this first fundraiser was a success. We've already raised all the money we need for this project.
There does seem to have been a bit of confusion though. We've decided to use Fundly to raise money for specific projects, however, we also have a donate page on our site where you can make a general donation to us through PayPal. A link to this page is automatically added to every post on the site. Two of our donors mistakenly sent us money through PayPal instead of Fundly. In the future we'll try to make the distinction between the donate page and our fundraisers a bit more obvious to reduce confusion.
I plan to send the state police a money order on Monday. I'll post an update when I do. I'll also post an update when I receive the documents and when I spend any of the donations on supplies. We value transparency, so we want to keep everyone updated on what's happening with your money when you donate it to us.
Thanks to everyone who donated.