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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Monday, January 28, 2008

In Texas, Where the Cops Are Hired on the Basis of...well...

Twenty years ago, police unions in Texas converged on the Capitol with a mission.

They found friendly legislators to push a bill that appeared to address only a mundane administrative matter about personnel record-keeping. It quickly passed in 1987 with little public notice.

But buried inside were provisions that ever since have kept taxpayers in the dark about some of the most important management practices of public institutions in Texas.

The law forever closed to the public whole sections of city personnel files.

Because of this change, known as Section 143.089 of the Local Government Code, most Texas taxpayers — with the exception of Dallas — never can know how their police departments carry out the vital functions of vetting and evaluating recruits. They also can't readily know how thoroughly officers accused of misconduct are investigated.

Through the years, 143.089 has impeded the public from exploring these practices.

Emblematic of the problem is the case of former Police Officer Joseph Anthony Evans who, the San Antonio Express-News has learned, was hired in 1994 despite a checkered past that disqualified him from being a cop. After 12 years on the force, Evans faces sentencing Wednesday for allowing his live-in girlfriend to peddle methamphetamines.

Documents in his personnel file, normally cloaked by the law, became public while he was being prosecuted. The city, citing the law, refused to release to the Express-News similar documents that would show whether other officers were hired despite a cloud.

More here. And the main story, here, is a GREAT example of why FOI matters so much and why cutting off access to this kind of stuff can be really dangerous.

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