Unelected appointee Ruth Joyce was removed from her position as the police authority’s lead member for freedom of information during an authority meeting on the 30th of September 2009 . I have been campaigning for this since her appointment around a year ago when in reply to an email I sent to her the then Chief Executive of the Police Authority, replying on her behalf, wrote:
public bodies are inundated with requests for information and we are no exception. Frankly, as a rule of thumb, 50% of the information requested seems to have no practical purpose and we really do wonder what the recipient does with it. Some “drill down” endlessly and we see no product from it in the media, at our public meetings or in other forms. We feel something will have to change to control this headlong dash for information which is an industry in itself.
A “Ms K Wilkins” was appointed as her replacement; I presume this is intended to be Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Wilkins, who I hope will not treat freedom of information with such contempt. As an elected member he is less likely to take a stance at odds with the views of the wider public than Ruth Joyce who does not have to face an election.
I have written to Mr Wilkins following his appointment:
Dear Mr Wilkins,
I am writing to you following your appointment as lead member for freedom of information on Cambridgeshire Police Authority. I would like to draw three examples Cambridgeshire Police’s of poor practice in relation to freedom of information to your attention:
- The force is not complying with the act’s basic requirement to respond to requests within twenty working days. I have just today had an email from them with respect to a request stating: “I regret to inform you that Cambridgeshire Constabulary will not be able to issue a response to your request within 20 working days. This is due to an increase in the number of requests we have received.” You can view that correspondence at:
- The force has refused to release information to me in response to a straight-forward question of if anyone been put before the courts with respect to a specific, clearly identified, incident. I hope you agree with me that such information ought be released to the public, ideally proactively, but at least on request. I have of course exhausted the police’s internal review procedure before highlighting this to you. If you agree with me that it is important that justice does not take place in secret then it is critical that such information is not excluded from disclosure when requested. The correspondence can be viewed online at:
In your new role will you be reviewing selected rejections and verifying if exemptions have properly been applied? I note that the information commissioners office is currently overwhelmed and is taking over a year to deal with complaints. The courts are also very slow and inaccessible those who are not either very rich or very poor. I am therefore looking to you to improve the situation.
- Cambridgeshire police have a disclosure log which releases information in copy protected PDF files. You can see the problem this creates if you try and copy and paste from a document downloaded from the disclosure log. This creates an unnecessary hurdle to the reuse of information released under FOI.
In my view the police force is generally far too secretive. I would like to see much more proactive publication of information, for example a log of police helicopter usage and a publicly viewable log (preferably mapped) of incidents and their outcomes. I expect this will come soon; but there is no reason Cambridgeshire police should not be leading in this area. Currently they are going backwards; the limited crime log which they used to publish online was removed during a recent change to their website.
Other Items from the Police Authority meeting
- Members of the Authority unanimously decided to go into secret session before discussing the force policy on pensions for injured police officers and the appointment of a new members of the authority. I feel that both of these matters are of significant public interest and at least the basic principles ought to have been discussed in public. (I was present for a public discussion of the Injury Awards Review in February 2009)
- Chief constable Julie Spence told the authority that she believed that public confidence in the police was not falling; despite the fraction of people saying they have confidence in the police in surveys dropping. She said that the statistics were an anomaly arising from changes to the wording of the question asked.
- A typo on the printed copies of the agendas authority members had at the meeting indicated the authority was to consider an “Anti-Strategy Strategy”, the item’s title should have read: “Anti-Corruption Strategy”.
- I have written separate articles on Addenbrooke’s Security Threatening People With Fixed Penalties and the chief constable describing custody officers complaining about understaffing as “bleating”.