Welcome to OpenOversight VA: The Police Data Project.
by alicee on 2023-06-12
OpenOversight VA:The Police Data Project is Virginia's only statewide police transparency database. We maintain data on over 295 police departments and sheriff's offices through public records aggregation, open-source intelligence research, community contributions, and, most of all, hundreds of regular Freedom of Information Act requests.
Created in October 2022 by Alice Minium, Kevin Finity, and Bryan Davis, we are an independent, decentralized, and fully autonomous collective run entirely by dedicated volunteer researchers, digital archivists, data enthusiasts, and others with a passion for police transparency through public records. We were granted 501(C)(3) nonprofit status in May 2023.
We've collected data on over 30,000 sworn law enforcement officers in Virginia, archived over 100 incidents of misconduct and brutality, added over 1,000 photos, and published over 92 police & sheriff's office policy manuals, some never before released to the public.
Our database will always be free. You can donate here to help us cover FOIA fees and civil litigation. We hope our data is useful to you as you join us in the fight for police transparency across Virginia.
This project was born out of the 2020 George Floyd Uprising in Richmond, VA. It is dedicated to victims of police brutality, those brave enough to share their encounters with police officers, and every officer who "doesn't have a name." Now they do.
Updates (May 2023)
by alicee on 2023-06-02
Fees from the Hampton Sheriff's Office, A Missing Chief of Police in Chesterfield, & Getting Official With the IRS
Here are a few updates on what's been new with OpenOversight VA this past week.
FOIA Case in Chesterfield Delayed
On Thursday, June 1, the hearing for our FOIA petition for mandamus in Chesterfield County was delayed due to failure of service of process. (When filing a petition for FOIA violations with the local court, there's a small fee paid to the Sheriff's Office so they will serve the papers to the defendant.) According to the notes received by the judge, the Chesterfield Sheriff's Office was "unable to locate" the Chief of Police and the County Attorney to issue them service. The judge said the form simply said "Not Found."
The hearing is now scheduled for 10:30 AM on Thursday, June 8, during which time we can hopefully find the Chief of Police. You can read the court filing on DocumentCloud (Alice Minium v Chesterfield Police Department).
More Steep Charges from Newport News, Hampton, Vinton, and Arlington County
In our ongoing project to obtain and publicize policy manuals from law enforcement agencies across the state, several departments this week issued excessively high estimates of fees.
The Hampton Sheriff's Office provided a cost estimate of $2,267.60 for their manuals, the Newport News Sheriff's Office estimated "over $1,000," the Vinton Police Department charged $1,000 exactly, and the Arlington County Sheriff's Office charged $421.25 for the first five chapters of their manual alone, which was their response to our attempt to modify our request.
From Arlington County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Maurice Dozier:
"A search resulted in 301 records for the first 5 chapters with an estimated 121 pages that would need to be redacted pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2.2-3704.01 and 2.2-3706.5. It is estimated that it will require approximately 16.85 hours of staff time to fulfill a portion of your request... During our review, it may be determined that all or some of your request may be excluded from mandatory disclosure per the Code of Virginia.... The total estimated cost for responding to the first 5 Chapters of your request is 421.25."
The first five chapters of the ACSO policy manual, according to the Table of Contents we required (that they provided "as a courtesy"), include topics such as "Personal Grooming," "Meritorious Service Awards," "Continuing Education," and "Virginia Freedom of Information Act."
From FOIA officer Dorothy Wikan at the Newport News Sheriff's Office:
"At an hourly rate of $25, the cost of supplying the records for this request will exceed $1,000. As you know, FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This includes items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or other costs directly related to fulfilling the request..."
Several agencies have arrived at a total cost of "$1,000" exactly. From Brandon Hill, Police Services Administrator at the Vinton Police Department:
"This office has received this sort of request before [for policy manuals] and calculated the cost at producing such records [sic]. The cost includes the amount of hours it will take to have staff read through each policy and make the appropriate redactions. The cost is estimated at $1,000... If you choose to pay the deposit, an invoice will be sent to you for that payment. Thank you and have a good day."
Finally, last but not least, here's an excerpt from the letter we received from Bionca Moore, Commander of Intake (#19), at the Hampton Sheriff's Office. After reminding us we have outstanding fees totaling $157.95 per a previous request for a roster of their employees, Moore continued:
"...The advanced determination of the total amount of costs involved in providing the above requested information is estimated at $2,267.60."
To their credit (unlike Newport News and Vinton), the Hampton Sheriff's Office did provide a cost breakdown. The cost breakdown indicates "Review and redaction of all polices (135 total)" will take employees 40 hours at a staff rate of $56.69 an hour.
"Since these costs will exceed $200, we are requiring that the full estimated amount be paid in advance, in accordance with Virginia Code § 2.2-3704 (H). No further processing of your request will be completed until all payment(s) are received."
The footer of the letter cites the agency's accreditation status, along with the inset quote: "Committed to Excellence."
Most Agencies Still Comply
To give you a sense of context, here's how these law enforcement agencies could have responded (and how the Laurel Ridge Community College Police Department did):
"Per your request, the General Orders from the Laurel Ridge Community College Police Department are attached. If you have any questions or would like further information, please feel free to reach out to me at this email."
From the Powhatan Police Department:
"I have attached a copy of the SOP [Standard Operating Procedures] to this email."
The Norton Police Department:
"This e-mail is in response to your FOIA request submitted to the City of Norton Police Department. Please the attached letter and PDF copy of the policy manual you have requested. Feel free to contact our agency if you need any further information or assistance."
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office:
From the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement:
"Upon review, we have determined that the vast majority of these records are subject to production in full without redaction. Those records have been uploaded to a Box folder..."
Official Incorporation, Nonprofit Status Now Pending
In other news, on May 26, 2023 OpenOversight VA filed with the State Corporation Committee as an official registered entity. On May 30, 2023, we completed our application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service.
Speaking of finances, as we've mentioned, we've had some fees for this process. Thanks to donations, we're now current with the Richmond Police, the Virginia State Police, the Richmond Sheriff's Office, the Newport News Sheriff's Office, Fairfax County Police, and over eight other agencies who had opted to charge us FOIA fees which we had yet to pay. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who's helped out-- this is your project.
We've set up a Venmo (@openoversightva) and a CashApp ($openoversight) to make donating and finance tracking easier, and we're still over a thousand short of what we owe. Anything helps and all funds have a tremendous impact by returning us data and the ability to challenge FOIA violations or overall secrecy by police departments. Thanks for helping hold law enforcement accountable as we work for transparency through public records and investigative research that creates the resources you see on this site. Feel free to email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
by Kevin on 2023-05-16
Current status update - 27,100 officers.
Our FOIA requests have been busy as usual - 40 last week - but we've also been working on site development, and planning for volunteer training. We're also investigating the feasibility of filing as a 501(c)(3).