Understanding WA State Records Law

Understanding WA State Records Law

The Washington Public Records Act (PRA) requires agencies to make public records available to members of the public with limited, narrow exemptions.

Definition of a Public Record - The PRA defines a "public record" to include any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristic. "Writing" as defined in the PRA means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photographing, and every other means of recording any form of communication or representation, including, but not limited to, letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combination thereof, and all papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films and prints, motion picture, film and video recordings, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, diskettes, sound recordings, and other documents including existing data compilations from which information may be obtained or translated. All public records are presumed disclosable unless they fall within the specific exemptions of the Public Records Act or other statutes which exempt or prohibit disclosure of specific information or records.

Exemptions - More information regarding specific exemptions contained in the PRA and other statutes which exempt or prohibit disclosure as well as the City's obligations under the PRA is available at: 

Washington State Office of the Attorney General  - Public Records and Open Public Meetings

Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC)  - Public Records Act

Understanding City of Seattle Records Law

The City of Seattle  is required to respond to public records requests pursuant to the PRA. The City is not required to respond to questions, do research, or to give information that is not the subject of an identifiable public record.

The City  and SPD have adopted policies for processing PRA requests including how it will charge for the costs directly related to the actual cost of copying and delivering records:

Interim Citywide Policy on Processing Public Disclosure Requests

Interim Citywide Fee Structure Framework for Providing Copies of Records in Response to PRA Requests

SPD PRA Copying Costs

Other Useful Information

Washington Coalition for Open Government - Making a public records request

Seattle Police Department Manual 12.080 Department Records Access, Inspection & Dissemination