The Massachusetts public records law, which is supposed to allow anyone to get copies of government documents, is an important tool for government transparency. Unfortunately, the law lacks teeth and many government agencies brazenly disregard it.
When I delivered a public records request to the Lynn Police Department on September 8, an employee explained that they would handle my request, like many others, in a way that clearly violated the law.
The public records law requires a written response within 10 days of a request being received, but a woman from the records division told me the sole person who handles records requests was a lieutenant who was in the middle of a vacation.
“[The lieutenant’s] not coming back until the twelfth. Today’s the eighth, okay, so I don’t know. He’ll have a whole bunch because he’s been out for 10 days -- 12 days.”
I asked her to confirm that the lieutenant was the only person who handles records requests for the entire Lynn Police Department and she replied, “Absolutely”.
Her statement suggested that it would be a while before the he would bother with my request due to all the other records requests that the police department had been ignoring during his absence.
The records employee went on to incorrectly tell me that recording her is illegal.
“And I do not want to be recorded. You do not have my permission," she said. "I will let the lieutenant know that both of you are trying to record me which is against the law.”
My records request was tied to a somewhat dramatic incident with the Lynn police (which I'll talk more about in a future post). In what may be an unusual event, my request garnered the attention of Police Chief Kevin Coppinger. He left a voicemail for me on September 9, stating that my request was being processed.
This phone call does not meet the definition of a response because it was not written and did not contain the required information that an actual response would have. While it's encouraging to know that the chief is directly involved in the process, it's now September 22 the 10 day deadline for the Lynn police to respond to my request in writing has passed. I still haven't received a written response.
The Lynn Police Department appear to have followed through with the lawbreaking that the records employee hinted at.