CHESHIRE — Town officials are asking the legislature to consider allowing municipalities to charge a fee for processing Freedom of Information requests, which police say have become more time-consuming with the implementation of cruiser and body cameras.
Town Manager Michael Milone included a request to amend state law and allow for such charges in a packet of legislative recommendations to the town’s General Assembly representatives.
FOI law doesn’t allow towns to charge for processing information requests but does set costs for copies of documents or reproductions of electronic files.
Police Lt. Brian Pichnarcik said an FOI request for video footage of even one arrest could include compiling and reviewing hours of video from several officers’ body cameras and their cruiser cameras. Police review the audio or video for items that are exempt from disclosure under state law.
“I would recommend that municipalities (at least police departments) have the ability to charge reasonable fees to recover lost man hours in fulfilling the request, in addition to the fees for the medium onto which the request is committed,” Pichnarcik wrote in a letter to Milone.
Rob Oris, a Republican and Town Council chairman, said he wasn’t sure if he supported such processing fees but didn’t mind having the issue discussed by state legislators.
“I have no problem advancing it to the state level for some conversation,” he said.
If the state decided to change the law, the town would then have the authority to charge for requests, which it doesn’t currently have.
Oris said he understood the police department’s desire to recapture costs in fulfilling FOI requests, but he wasn’t sure that residents should have to pay more for public information.
“People pay tax dollars,” he said. “There’s a certain expectation of services you get with that.”
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said she hadn’t yet made up her mind on the issue. “I recognize the reasoning behind the request,” she said. “A lot of these things can become time consuming and expensive.”
Linehan also said the video was public information and wanted to see what the fees might be.
She and Milone both said FOI requests for videos are new ground. Milone said FOI laws were written when most requests were for documents which are less time-intensive to review for redaction.
“It’s not like making the copy of a document,” Milone said. “This is pretty labor intensive. It’s dissimilar to what they’re used to allowing us to charge for.”
He hasn’t compiled how many hours have been used filling video requests and said Pichnarcik was being forward-thinking in addressing the issue that’ll likely grow. Milone expected other towns and cities to run into the same issue if they haven’t already.
“This is going to become a major issue for everybody with cameras,” he said.