12.080 - Department Records Access, Inspection & Dissemination

Effective Date: 11/20/2013

12.080-POL

This policy applies to access, inspection and dissemination of Department records. 

1. All Records are Subject to Public Disclosure Unless a Specific Legal Exemption Exists

Per RCW 42.56.070, the Department must make all public records available to a requester, unless the record falls within the specific exemptions in the Public Records Act (PRA) or other statute which exempts or prohibits disclosure of specific information or records.

2. Public Records are Available for Release to the Maximum Extent Allowed by Law

A public record is any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the Department or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by the Department, regardless of physical form or characteristics. 

  • Public records may include records received or created that relate to the conduct of the Department or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function and are prepared, owned, used, or retained by the Department.
  • The Department frequently receives records from outside agencies.  Any and all records that are in the Department’s possession are Department records for the purposes of PRA. 
  • Writing means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, and every other means of recording any form of communication or representation, including, but not limited to, letters, words, pictures, sounds, 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. 

Under RCW 42.56 Public Records Act (PRA) as interpreted by Washington courts, all Department records must be identified to the public, so long as the records are not part of an open and active investigation. 

Exception: Department records that fall under a specific exemption within the PRA or other statute are not required to be identified to the public.  Specific exemptions include, but are not limited to, public safety considerations and privacy concerns. 

  • The Department cannot withhold an entire record because portions of it fall under an exemption.  The Department shall redact exempted information and release the record with an explanation for any redactions.

3. All Records That Relate to a Public Disclosure Request (PDR) Must Be Provided or Identified to the Public Disclosure Unit (PDU)

If an employee withholds known records that relate to a PDR, he or she may be subject to civil liability and/or Department discipline.

  • Employees are advised to contact PDU (684-4848 or spdpdr@seattle.gov) when they are uncertain as to whether documents that they have constitute records that relate to a PDR.  

4. Officers/Detectives Must Ask Victims, Witnesses and Complainants if They Want Their Identifying Information Disclosed or Not Disclosed

When gathering information at the time of reporting, officers and detectives must ask victims, witnesses and complainants if they want their identifying information disclosed or not disclosed. This decision supersedes any disclosure requests made by another person. 

  • When a victim, witness or complainant is unable to discuss disclosure due to incapacity, the reporting officer shall:
  • Document the incapacity in the entity portion of the General Offense Report, and
  • Document any specific evidence that disclosure of the identity of the victim, witness or complainant would threaten life, safety or property.    

5. PDU Responds to PDRs

The Public Disclosure Unit (PDU) handles all public disclosure requests (PDRs) in accordance with the Public Records Act (PRA).  See 12.080-PRO-1 Handling Public Disclosure Requests.

  • Any Department employee who receives a PDR, or any request that appears to be a PDR, shall immediately forward it to spdpdr@seattle.gov.
  • The request does not have to cite the PRA. 

There are four options for member of the public to submit PDRs:

  • E-mail: spdpdr@seattle.gov (preferred method)
  • Mail:  SPD PDU; PO Box  34986; 610 5th Ave; Seattle, WA  98124-4986
  • Fax: (206) 684-5240
  • In-person at the public counter at SPD Headquarters, 610 5th Ave.

6.  Public Request Unit (PRU) Responds to Certain Requests

The PRU handles the following:

  • Requests for police reports
  • Requests for clearance letters
  • Fingerprinting and criminal background checks on applicants for concealed pistol licenses
  • Fingerprinting criminal justice applicants
  • Fingerprinting citizens for general purposes
  • Processing applications for transferring ownership of handguns
  • Electronically redacting police reports for release to the SPD My Neighborhood Map website

7.  Crime Records Unit (CRU) Responds to Certain Requests

The CRU receives and records all incoming requests for General Offense Reports from other City departments and from other law enforcement agencies, as well as from insurance companies.

8.  The Public Disclosure Request Steering Committee Resolves Complex PDR

The PDR Steering Committee, which meets each Monday, is comprised of the Chief Administrative Officer, PDU Manager and staff, Records Manager, SPD Legal Advisor, Compliance Section Captain or designee, and one or more representatives of the Seattle Law Department.

See 12.080-PRO-1 Handling Public Disclosure Requests.

12.080-PRO-1 Handling Public Disclosure Requests

PDU

1.  Receives PDR

2.  Contacts relevant units or specific employees to request records and provides a due date

Relevant Unit/Employee

3.  Gathers all relevant records and contacts PDU with any questions

a. If an employee believes that some or all of the information in the record(s) is protected from public disclosure, provides the record(s) to the PDU, with a memo stating what should be protected and why

b. Whether the record(s) at issue is protected from public disclosure shall be discussed at the next meeting of the PDR Steering Committee

  • Absent conflicting advice from the Law Department and the SPD Legal Advisor, the Chief Administrative Officer shall determine whether record(s) will be disclosed wholly or in part, and whether any exemptions apply. 
  • When there is conflicting advice from legal counsel, the issue shall be elevated to the Chief of Staff and the Law Department’s Chief of the Civil Division for resolution. 

4.  Provides records to PDU by the due date

PDU

5.  Collects records and makes any and all necessary redactions

6.  Provides records to the requestor