Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Register Citizen: Torrington police memo-ries

The key to any good FOI result is paying attention and staying patient... It also helps to have a leak.

When former Torrington police officer Hector Medina was arrested on Feb. 8, 2012 for misusing police databases, it opened a can of worms that none of us saw coming. Medina's arrest sparked the community to ask a question: Why was he making these alleged "phantom stops"?

Twenty-nine different victims said Medina had never pulled them over, but he reported these stops as part of his "one-stop quota," as the community began to call it. Come to find out, the police department -- much like any other department --
asks its officers to interact with the public at least once per eight-hour shift. Some call it a quota, but the administration calls it a "performance standard."

During an interview with Lt. Mike Emanuel of the Torrington Police Department regarding a second officer being placed on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons (brought to The Register Citizen by a journalist's dream... a leak), we asked about this alleged "quota," and he mentioned something about a memo asking officers to do their jobs.

Sidenote: when a cop mentions anything about an internal document, you jot that note down and follow-up with it later.

Next we knew, a well-written FOI letter and a few phone calls that push the harassing-yet-persistent envelope to the Chief of Police later, we had ourselves a sit-down interview with the chief and a memo outlining what Torrington Police Department expects from its officers.

What we learned and what you can take away:
1. Be persistent.
2. Watch your comment section, because they sometimes are a great place to fish for ideas.
3. Impress police with your knowledge of the law, they appreciate that.
4. Be respectful, cordial and understand that they have a job; but make them aware you have a job, too.
5. Learn to write well-done requests. A well-written FOI letter will produce better results, quicker.

Ricky Campbell is a staff reporter for The Register Citizen in Torrington and is a member of this blog's Freedom of Information Committee. He is also on the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists Board of Directors, a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and has studied the state's public record laws extensively. Contact him through Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.

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