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Police chief mum on new policy to charge for mug shots, accident reports

RICHMOND, Va. — One Richmond barber says he’s starting to feel much safer in Church Hill.

“I’m happy on this side of town,” says Ben Stevenson.

He says he feels safer because more people are talking about what’s going on and passing along information regarding violent incidents on neighborhood blogs.  “You have to have knowledge of what’s going on around the neighborhood so you can prevent a lot of things,” says Stevenson.

Now the Richmond barber is worried about not getting that information.

Richmond police are now saying the department will enforce its payment policy for information like mug shots as well as accident and incident reports. This will impact the small neighborhood blogs Stevenson relies on, and the news media also, when it comes to obtaining critical information regarding neighborhood crimes.

“In the end, it’s a counter-productive policy,” says Government Watchdog, Paul Goldman.

Goldman says the mayor and police chief aren’t being transparent as promised and like Chief Ray Tarasovic told CBS 6’s Mark Holmberg when he took the job last year.

Last year Mark asked Tarasovic: “What about the department’s relationship with the media? Is there going to be a little more information coming out?

“You will have an accessible police chief,” Tarasovic told him. “You will have an accessible police department.”

Chief Tarasovic declined to comment on why this policy is being enforced now,

Police department spokesperson Gene Lepley first sent CBS 6 an email saying the department’s chief of staff would speak on the issue, then later, another email saying, “We are going to pass on the opportunity to do an interview.”

CBS 6 reached out to the mayor’s office as well and his Spokesperson, Tammy Hawley. She sent an email that reads in part, “RPD has a capable public information staff that can assist you with respect to any interviews about their agency operations.”

“You’re going to make it harder for the most people who are victims of crime to find out what’s going on? Think about it! It doesn’t make any sense,” says Goldman.

RPD also declined to say when this policy would go into effect.

“Since April 22, 2014 our Media Relations unit has processed numerous requests for media outlets and the $5 threshold has always been applied,” Major Odetta Johnson, Richmond Police Chief of Staff said.  “Further, our records reflect that there has been no interruption to the flow of information being timely provided and the media has only been charged on two occasions since that time.”

3 comments

  • Glen Allen

    FOIA’s are a pain for most Governmental Agencies because the required response time is so little, the information, exactly as requested is often not readily available, and most Agencies are understaffed as it is. In fact, sometimes by the time the appropriate person gets the request, the due date is the next day. However, the Government belongs to the people, and the people have to come first.
    Having worked in Government for many years, I can tell you, that the number of FOIA’s typically rise as trust in current leadership lowers. Trust in Mayor Jones has not only lower, it has downright sunk, therefore Agencies are spending an exorbitant amount of time answering FOIA’s, leaving less time to conduct business, with fewer people on staff due to staff reductions over the last few years. This is probably why the Police Department is making this unpopular move – they are hoping the number of FOIA requests will greatly reduce if people have to pay for them.

    There is an appropriate answer the Mayor’s Spokesperson could have provided, but apparently no one told her what to say – lol. Perhaps they were all busy working on his Shockoe Bottom Baseball Stadium Boondoggle. Anyway, all Incident Reports are posted here http://www.ci.richmond.va.us/police/CrimeIncidentInfo.aspx on-line, and access is FREE. They are kept current, and are fairly detailed (Click where it asks you to “agree”, and you will be brought to the information portal). You can also go here http://www.courts.state.va.us/ to find other free information going on in the local courts.

    • Local atty

      On a FOIA request, they need only respond within the limitation, that doesn’t mean the information will be provided. As an attorney, I frequently request information – 911 recordings, equipment records, etc. – and I expect that my initial response will be that the agency needs more time to provide the records. That is a legitimate response. That said, good for them for enforcing the charge. They should! I expect a charge for records that I request, am billed for it, and gladly pay it. It takes time and effort for these agencies to respond.

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