The Memphis police department is limiting journalists who want to view its public records, allowing only one media appointment per day and limiting that appointment to three hours.
Marc Perrusquia, a longtime Memphis journalist at The Commercial Appeal and now director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis, in early June requested copies of excessive report complaints against Memphis police for the past five years.
When told that he would be charged more than $6,000 to get copies of the reports, he decided against getting copies and asked to inspect the records on-site instead. The law prohibits charges for viewing records, and only allows charges for copies.
The police department told him he could view records, but he would only be allowed two appointments per week and three hours for each appointment.
Perrusquia began slogging through the records, taking notes by hand because the office refused to let him take pictures with his phone or make copies in any other way.
He talks about these limitations in a story published this week on WKNO 99.1, MPD Excessive Force Complaints Coming to Light.
He told TCOG on Thursday that he had gotten through most of the 2015 and 2016 reports, pausing to write a story about one of the reports in 2015.
However, when he went in Tuesday, he hit a new roadblock. The police department said it had gotten requests from other media members who now want to view the reports.
As such, he could not get an appointment any time soon. The police department said it is limiting access to view its public records to one media member a day.
The state’s public records law says that public records “shall, at all times during business hours… be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state.” It makes no mention of limiting the number of citizens who can view the records during business hours.
Perrusquia said he wants to finish his review of the excessive force reports and has now asked for the remaining reports to be made available in copies. The Memphis police have not given him a new estimate on the cost to provide the copies.
The restrictions on media to view the reports come even as Mayor Jim Strickland announced the launch of a new website, reimagine.memphistn.gov. That website, the mayor says, could eventually allow reporters to see misconduct reports online.
“This new site will provide guidance and understanding to any individual or group interested in truly learning what our officers do and don’t do,” Mayor Strickland is quoted as saying in the WKNO report.
Meanwhile, it appears there will be gated-entry only.