PPI 6.6 | Data Story: Responsiveness to Public Records Requests
- Oregon law requires that district attorney’s offices fulfill public records requests within 15 business days.
- MCDA has one attorney responsible for triaging and responding to public records requests.
- In 2021, MCDA responded to 88% of public records requests within 15 business days.
Let’s take a look: In November 2021, a victim of an assault emails the Multnomah County DA’s Office requesting a copy of the DA’s case file.
Day 1: Prosecutor receives public records request from the crime victim.
Day 2-4: Prosecutor locates the case file and acknowledges receipt of the records request. Prosecutor goes through the entire case file to determine what is exempt from disclosure and what can be released.
Day 5: Prosecutor sends the appropriate documents via email or other software to the victim and outlines any exemptions that may have applied to the case (e.g. redaction of social security numbers).
This public records request would be counted in November 2021 as a data request fulfilled within 15 days.
What does the data tell us? In 2021, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office (MCDA) fulfilled a monthly average of 88.3% of public records requests within 15 days. December and April showed the largest deviations from this average, with a low of 74% in December and a high of 100% in April.
Discussion Oregon Revised Statute 192.311(5)(a) defines a “public record” to include any writing that contains information relating to the conduct of the public’s business. For MCDA, this includes many of the records found within criminal files, such as police reports, notes, photographs, audio files, video files, and correspondences. Data created by a public agency is also subject to public records requests. These records matter because MCDA is a publicly funded government agency and explicitly serves members of the public.
MCDA therefore makes conduct and operation of the agency as expressed in writing and in some cases audio and audiovisual format accessible for public review. The timeliness of fulfilling such requests shows the seriousness and urgency MCDA applies to its role as a transparent and accountable body. MCDA has assigned a deputy district attorney to review and fulfill all public records requests received by the office.
Not all public records are available for inspection through Public Records Law. Many state and federal laws either prohibit public bodies from disclosing certain records, or give public bodies the discretion not to disclose. If a piece of information qualifies as a public record, the public body must either disclose it in response to a records request or assert an exemption from disclosure.
Pursuant to ORS 192.329, when MCDA receives a public records request, the office has five business days to acknowledge receipt of the request and 15 business days to fulfill the request. When the office provides the requester with a fee estimate to fulfill the request, the 15 business-day deadline is suspended until the fee has been paid or waived. Similarly, when the office requests clarification from the requester, the 15 business-day deadline is suspended until the requester provides or declines to provide that clarification. If no response is received to the fee estimate or clarifying question(s) within 60 days, MCDA closes the request.
Most requests can be fulfilled within the 15 business-day deadline. However, MCDA can extend the deadline by providing the requestor “a reasonable estimated date” for when the office can fulfill the request. For example, a large request involving multiple boxes of unscanned records can require one to two months to complete. Additionally, the deadline may not be met if the requestor doesn’t promptly respond to clarifying questions or if they fail to accept the public records fee. When MCDA provides that notice to the requestor, per ORS 192.329(5), it satisfies the timeline and keeps the office from being in violation of the public records law. For more information on public records request laws in Oregon, see this from the Oregon Department of Justice.