Status of data in the Jamar Clark investigation

Posted by: on Nov 20, 2015 | No Comments

As has been widely reported in the local press, Twin Cities resident Jamar Clark was shot during an encounter with police in the early hours of November 15, 2015, and later died from that gunshot wound.  Controversy over the incident sparked demonstrations outside of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct headquarters, and led to a protest-related shut-down of Interstate 94.

At present, both the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are conducting investigations into the shooting.  Much discussion in the press has focused on questions of when investigative data will be available to the public, in order to provide a clear picture of the incident.  MNCOGI presents the following summary of the status of such data:

Criminal investigative data:  When data gathered by police becomes part of an active criminal investigation, it becomes “confidential” or “protected nonpublic” data, depending on whether the data pertains to an individual or not.  While data is classified in this way, it cannot be shared with either the subject of the data, or with members of the public who ask for it.  This data classification extends to any video of the incident obtained by the police, with the exception of certain arrest or incident data.  After an investigation is closed, the “not public” data reverts to a public status, with certain exceptions.

Arrest data:  Even after a criminal investigation has been opened, certain data still remains public, even though other, related data gets converted into various forms of “not public” data.  Data that is public “at all times” includes certain arrest data, including data documenting whether any weapons were used by police, or whether there was any resistance encountered by police.  If this data exists in the form of a video recording, any portion of the recording that documents such details is public data.  In the Jamar Clark case, the BCA has indicated that it holds certain video of the incident.

Incident data:  Like arrest data, certain law enforcement “incident” data is always public, even after a criminal investigation has been opened.  Such data includes the date, time, and place of the police action, police report numbers, and other factual information (such as the use of weapons) similar to the “arrest data” discussed above.

Names of officers:  The names of the officers involved in the shooting were released on November 18th, several days after the incident occurred.  MNCOGI notes that the names of officers involved in any arrest or law enforcement incident are public “at all times” under Minnesota law.  This is true even if other data connected to an arrest or incident has been converted into criminal investigative data.

Public benefit data:  The law enforcement section of the Data Practices Act has a little-used provision that deals with “public benefit data.”  That section states that even when certain data is being maintained as “not public” criminal investigative data, police agencies can choose to release particular data to the public if the release would “aid with the law enforcement process, promote public safety, or dispel widespread rumor or unrest.”

Federal criminal investigative data:  Any Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) data related to the Clark case that has been transferred to the FBI will have its own classification under federal law.  Exemption 7(a) of the federal Freedom of Information Act prohibits the release of data on ongoing criminal investigations.  Federal law does not contain provisions that make some law enforcement data (such as certain arrest data) public during an investigation, as Minnesota law does.  To obtain arrest data related to the Clark case, it would be necessary to request it from the MPD or the BCA – not the FBI.

MNCOGI Supports Call For Legislative Openness and Transparency

Posted by: on Nov 17, 2015 | No Comments

Minnesota recently received a grade of D- from the Center for Public Integrity for its lack of transparency and openness in state government. In response, Minnesota House Minority Leader Paul Thissen has called for much needed and long overdue reforms. MNCOGI supports such reforms, and encourages Rep. Thissen and other legislative leaders to strengthen the public’s right to know.

The Center for Public Integrity and Rep. Thissen were both highly critical of a process where closed door meetings produced agreements and bills that were rushed to a vote before lawmakers knew what was in them.  Rep. Thissen said that the “chaotic conclusion” of the 2015 session was a “mockery of legislative process,” and called for reform legislation that would provide lawmakers and the public at least 24 hours to review any proposed legislation.

MNCOGI believes that this proposal is a good first step, but also believes that the legislature and the governor should do more.  Meetings where deals are being cut should be open to the public.  After all, it is the public’s business that is being done, and taxpayers’ money that is being spent.

Voters cannot hold their lawmakers accountable if they are kept in the dark, and the deal making is secret.  A little sunshine would go a long way to restoring Minnesota’s reputation for clean government.

If lawmakers cannot see their way clear to opening the doors, they should at least require that the closed meetings be recorded, and the recordings be made public after the legislation is adopted. That would provide the transparency the public needs in order to hold its elected officials accountable.

Back in the 1970s, the Minnesota Legislature passed good-government legislation called the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  The law applied to almost all levels of Minnesota Government.  Counties, cities, school districts, and more were included, but courts and the Minnesota Legislature were excluded. Rep Thissen thinks it’s time to see if the law should be extended to the legislature. MNCOGI believes that this is a sound suggestion, and pledges its support to craft appropriate legislation.

2015 legislative session round-up

Posted by: on May 24, 2015 | No Comments

James Shiffer (of the Star Tribune’s “Full Disclosure” column, as well as the MNCOGI board) uses his Sunday column to list the open government “wins” of the 2015 legislative session.  These include increased transparency measures for police surveillance equipment, as well as the rejection of bills that would have made certain body camera data, birth record data, and police incident data “not public.”  MNCOGI testified on all of these issues over the course of the session.  We will soon be posting our 2015 testimony and realted documentation in the “policy” section of our blog.  We use that portion of our site as a year-by-year archive of transparency issues that have arisen at the capitol.

MNCOGI notes that the legislative actions highlighed above were due to bi-partisan support from key, transparency-minded legislators, including Reps. Peggy Scott and John Lesch, as well as Senators Branden Petersen, Warren Limmer, Scott Dibble, and many others in both houses.  Our thanks go out to all who have supported the cause of government transparency in Minnesota.

MNCOGI opposes changes to birth record data

Posted by: on Apr 22, 2015 | No Comments

The Minnesota Senate is on the verge of approving a change to long-public birth record information.  A provision in the HHS omnibus bill would change address information on birth records to a “private” data status, from its currently “public” status under Minnesota law.  While the bill contains an exception for medical research, it would close off data to historical researchers, genealogists, and most other citizen requesters.

MNCOGI and the Minnesota Pro chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists recently co-signed a statement in opposition to this change – found below – and at the SPJ web site.

JOINT STATEMENT ON BIRTH RECORD DATA

The Minnesota Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) oppose a provision of the Senate HHS Omnibus bill relating to the classification of birth record data. In particular, we oppose language (found in lines 217.24, 244.5-244.20, and 244.14) that would deprive the public of access to long-standing public information regarding birth records. For decades, such information has been useful to a wide range of Minnesotans for historical research, genealogy, and other lawful purposes.

By authorizing the release of birth record data only to limited sub-sets of individuals, such as “persons performing medical research,” these provisions of the omnibus bill advance the notion that data should be selectively released to the public based on the type of individual who requests it. This is at odds with the history of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, which does not discriminate between data requesters once government data has been classified as “public.” Such limitations could set a negative precedent for the subsequent classification of a wide variety of data in Minnesota. We urge the committee to reject proposed changes that would constrain public access to long-standing public information.

Sincerely,
Chris Newmarker (President, Minnesota SPJ)
Gary Hill (Chair, MNCOGI)

 

 

 

 

 

Open data and comedy: They can go together

Posted by: on Apr 17, 2014 | No Comments

MNCOGI board member Bill Bushey (center) shares the stage with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (left) and Minneapolis Chief Information Officer Otto Doll (right)

 

Open Twin Cities co-founder and MNCOGI board member Bill Bushey braved the stage at Bryant Lake Bowl on Monday to sing the praises of open data, along with the Minnesota Secretary of State and Minneapolis’s chief information officer. It was all part of the Theater of Public Policy, an improv group that combines comedy with free-wheeling discussions of serious stuff. The house was packed to hear about the availability of large data sets, privacy breaches and other typically dry matter made more fluid by the wide beer selection and live music. Also spotted in the audience: MNCOGI board member Helen Burke.

City finally hands over records of investigation

Posted by: on Feb 10, 2014 | No Comments

By James Eli Shiffer, MNCOGI board member and the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor

I blogged last month about how the Star Tribune had waited seven months for the city of Minneapolis to hand over records of an internal investigation into a public official. The documents finally arrived last week, and staff writer Eric Roper had a story about it in Sunday’s paper.  He also offered readers the entire investigative file, so you can piece together your own story, in between eight months’ worth of redactions.

Holding political candidates accountable for public data

Posted by: on Nov 14, 2013 | No Comments

By James Shiffer, MNCOGI board member

I confess that I am late to the party when it comes to the growing movement of civic-minded hackers who are doing wonders with government data. But the more I find out, the more I realize that those of us who have wrangled with government agencies for years over public records now have a new generation of compatriots who recognize the power of public data to make the world better.

One of those advocates, Bill Bushey of Open Twin Cities, paid a visit to the MNCOGI board earlier this week. One thing he talked about was the open data questionnaire that was sent to all political candidates in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Several of those who responded were elected to office, and now the public has a record of what they said they would do to make government data more accessible. My Star Tribune colleague Eric Roper blogged about it here.

One of newly elected Minneapolis City Council members, Linea Palmisano, gave a statement that we would like to hear more of from politicians: “I also believe that both the media and citizens shouldn’t have to submit a ‘data practices’ request and wait months in order to get data from the city. The irony is that the city has spent millions of dollars in the IT department but accessibility hasn’t improved for citizens.”

Now let’s they make sure they keep their promises.

Losing access to records when you want them most

Posted by: on Sep 18, 2013 | No Comments

Star Tribune Whistleblower columnist Alejandra Matos blogs about how once-public records at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are now unavailable, because of a continuing investigation into a business linked to a salmonella illness outbreak. Here’s the story.

Reporter fights back, with words, after getting stonewalled over records

Posted by: on Sep 5, 2013 | No Comments

Last week, my Strib colleague Chao Xiong couldn’t get the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office to hand over public records regarding a homicide. So he blogged about the experience, and got a promise from the sheriff to do better next time. Read his story here.
— James Eli Shiffer, MNCOGI board member and the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor