The Sacramento Bee reported:
“The Davis Police Department earned a B minus, a low grade considering that a Davis Enterprise editor tipped the police chief to the audit on the day it [the requests] happened.”
In Friday’s Davis Enterprise, reporter Lauren Keene wrote a front page story on the audit. On the second page, she discussed in some detail the results from the Davis Police Department. In it she indicated, accurately,
“The Davis Police Department was the county’s highest-scoring agency, receiving a B+ from CalAware (which raised the agency’s grade from a B- in light of a scoring error discovered Thursday night).”
Moreover, she also reported that Interim Police Chief Steve Pierce was tipped off by a Davis Enterprise editor; however, Pierce “said it did not affect how his agency responded to the requests.”
This raised a number of questions about the efficacy of the scoring process and whether the Davis Enterprise had inappropriately sabotaged the process.
The Californians Aware website provides some of these answers. There is a detailed account of the audit conducted by Davis Enterprise reporter Corey Golden.
Golden provides us with detailed notes.
“On Dec. 4, just before 9 a.m., I went to the station. The front desk clerk recognized me immediately, though I’m not our regular police reporter. She accepted the requests but said the station was short-staffed. I offered to wait, but she said she would not be able to get to any of them that day. I was given the name of the head of the records department, Karen Berry, and was told she’d contact me. Within about two hours, the interim chief called my editor, Debbie Davis.”
Apparently Debbie Davis was supposed to stick to the script so as to not tip off the Police Chief to the fact that they were conducting an audit.
“Unfortunately, Debbie [Davis] did not stick to the script, explaining what was going on.”
Notice that Golden does not characterize this error as inadvertent or unintentional.
“The chief [Steve Pierce] said he’d fulfill the requests within 10 days. He later called and e-mailed me a couple of times with questions and in one voice mail mentioned that he and others were working on the requests.”
Contrary to the statement from Steve Pierce that “it did not affect how his agency responded to the requests,” Golden openly wonders whether an ordinary citizen in such a situation would encounter such devoted treatment from the interim Chief of Police and his staff.
“Certainly not the sort of situation a normal citizen would encounter, I’m sure. However, I suppose it says something that the interim chief knew exactly what these requests were for, but it still took until 12/13 — nine days — to fulfill them. What that says likely varies widely depending on your point of view.”
Golden does not jump to conclusions; however his questions—which were completely appropriate—are very telling.
More telling is that the Davis Enterprise never mentions Golden’s report nor his concerns about the process.
There are three critical concerns in this incident. First, the question has arisen in the past about the inappropriate collaboration between the Davis Enterprise and the Davis Police Department. Editor and Assistant Publisher Debbie Davis used exceedingly poor judgment in how she chose to handle this situation. Golden suggests that she “did not stick” to the script. The Davis Enterprise chooses to characterize this as inadvertent, but it is clear that Debbie Davis knew in advance the role that she was to play, so it is unclear how she could inadvertently disclose the reasons for the Public Records Act requests.
Second, there is an issue of reporting. Davis Enterprise reporter Lauren Keene does not disclose the misgivings that Golden expresses in his report. Instead she takes Pierce at his word that it had no effect on how his agency responded to the requests.
Finally, even knowing that the express purpose of the public records request was to test his department, Pierce could only score an 86 which was graded a B+. Pierce purportedly disagreed with some of the grading criteria:
“But Pierce took issue with some of the deductions, saying additional time was needed in some cases to properly fulfill the auditor’s requests. Collecting the desired crime and arrest reports was particularly time-consuming, he added.”
However, the bottom line is that this test and its purpose was revealed to Steve Pierce & the Davis Police Department and therefore loses any element of credibility that it might have had. Part of the test was to see how ordinary citizens are treated in response to requests for information. That test was sabotaged the moment Debbie Davis revealed to Steve Pierce that this was part of an audit and would be reported in the newspapers.
While Californians Aware was less concerned about any single department, this should have invalidated this examination of the Davis Police Department responsiveness and thoroughness as a part of the statewide study as soon as it was clear that the cover was blown and most likely intentionally so by Ms. Davis.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting