Freedom of Information Act

BRUNSWICK COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Freedom of Information Act Guidelines

 To download a copy of these guidelines click here.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as defined in the Virginia State Code Section 2.2-3700, ensures the citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media ready access to public records in the custody of public bodies, public officials, and public employees.  FOIA was enacted to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities.

A public record, as defined in Virginia State Code Section 2.2-3701, is any writing or recording that consists of letters, words or numbers, or their equivalent, set down by handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photography, magnetic impulse, optical or magneto-optical form, mechanical or electronic recording or other form of date compilation, however stored, and regarding of physical form or characteristics, prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents  in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may be withheld only if a specific statutory exemption applies.

YOUR FOIA RIGHTS

  1. You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  2. You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  3. If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel the compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a non-binding advisory opinion at 1-866-448-4100.

MAKING A REQUEST FOR RECORDS FROM THE BRUNSWICK COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

  1. The FOIA Administrator is Tammy W. Newcomb, Assistant to the Sheriff. She may be reached at 434-848-3133 or tnewcomb@brunswickso.org.
  1. You may make a FOIA request by U.S. Mail, fax, email, in person or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA.
  1. Submit requests to the Office of the Brunswick County Sheriff, 120 E. Hicks Street, Lawrenceville, VA 23868. Your request must identify the records that you are seeking with “reasonable specificity”.
  1. Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records. It does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office.
  1. A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of Section 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.
  1. Individuals requesting copies of any documents can be charged twenty-five ($0.25) per page for such copies. You may request to receive the documents electronically in a format used by the Sheriff’s Office in the regular course of business.
  1. Persons making Freedom of Information Act document requests that require fifteen (15) minutes or less of staff time for a response shall not be charged for search time, but can be charged for any copies received.
  1. Individuals making Freedom of Information Act document requests, which require more than fifteen (15) minutes of staff time for a response shall be charged at the hourly rate of the individual employee performing the search. These charges shall be calculated in fifteen (15) minute increments, in addition to charges made for copies and other expenses incurred by the Sheriff’s Office as allowed by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. In any case where the Sheriff’s Office determines that the search and copying charges for producing the requested information are likely to exceed two hundred dollars ($200.00), the Sheriff’s Office may, before continuing to process the request, require the requestor to agree to payment of an amount not to exceed the advance determination by five percent (5%).
  1. Procedures for payment of the charges authorized by this policy shall be in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2.2-3706, certain documents and records are excluded from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s disclosure provisions. Except where specifically prohibited by law, disclosure of the following records remains within the discretion of the Brunswick Sheriff’s Office:

  1. Memorandum, correspondence, evidence and complaints related to criminal investigations.
  1. Adult arrestee photography when necessary to avoid jeopardizing an investigation in felony cases until such time as the release of such photograph(s) will no longer jeopardize the investigation.
  1. Reports submitted, in confidence, to the state or local law enforcement agencies, to investigators authorized pursuant to Chapter 3.2 (§2.2-307 et. seq.) and to campus police departments or public institutions for higher education established pursuant to Article 3 (§23.1-809 et seq.) of Chapter 8 of Title 23.1.
  1. Portions of records of local government crime commissions that would identify individuals providing information about crimes or criminal activities under a promise of anonymity.
  1. Records relating to neighborhood watch programs that include the names, addresses and operating schedules of individual participants in the program that are provided to such departments under a promise of confidentiality.
  1. All records of persons imprisoned in penal institutions in the Commonwealth provided such records relate to the imprisonment.
  1. The identities of victims, witnesses or undercover officers, need not be disclosed, but may be at the discretion of the agency.
  1. The identities of persons providing information about a crime or criminal activity under a promise of anonymity will not be disclosed.
  1. Engineering and architectural drawings; operational, procedural, tactical planning or training manuals; or staff meeting minutes or other records which would reveal surveillance techniques, personnel deployments, alarm system technologies, or operational or transportation plans or procedures when disclosure would jeopardize the security or employee safety of any courthouse, jail, or law enforcement facility.
  1. Law enforcement agency records containing specific tactical plans when their disclosure would jeopardize the safety or security of law enforcement personnel or the general public. Also included in this exemption are records of emergency services agencies containing specific tactical plans related to anti-terrorist activity.
  1. Any information describing the design, function, operation or access control features of any security system used to control access to or use of any automated data processing or telecommunications system.

Pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2-2-3706, the following information related to criminal investigations shall be disclosed:

  1. Information in the custody of law-enforcement officials, including the status of the charge or arrest, relative to the identity of any individual other than a juvenile who is arrested and charged.
  1. Generally, criminal incident information relating to felony offenses shall be disclosed. However, where the release of criminal incident information is likely to jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation or the safety of an individual, causes a suspect to flee or evade detection, or results in the destruction of evidence, such information may be withheld until the above referenced damage is no longer likely to occur from release of the information. The term, “criminal incident information”, for Virginia Freedom of Information Act purposes, means a general description of criminal activity

reported, the date and general location the alleged crime was committed, the identity

of the investigating officer and the general description of any injuries suffered or property damage or stolen. However, the identity of any victim, witness, undercover officer, or investigative techniques or procedures need not, but may be disclosed, unless disclosure is prohibited or restricted. Under Virginia Code the identity of any individual providing information about a crime or criminal activity under a promise of anonymity shall not be disclosed.

Pursuant to Virginia State Code, the following standards have been established regarding requests and responses. These standards include time limitations and methods of addressing these limitations.

  1. The Sheriff’s Office shall respond within five (5) working days of receiving the request. Day one is considered the day after your request is received. The five day period excludes weekends or holidays.
  1. There must be one of the following four responses:
  1. Make the requested record(s) available.
  1. Decline in writing to furnish the requested record citing the specific part of FOIA which exempts them or any other statute which prohibits their release (e.g. Section 16.1-301, which restricts the release of juvenile records).
  1. If only a portion of the records requested are exempt from disclosure, delete or redact the portion which need not be disclosed and make the rest available accompanied by a written statement identifying that portion of FOIA or other state statute that allows the exemption.
  1. Respond in writing that the requested records cannot be identified within five (5) working days, thereby allowing an additional seven (7) working days to identify the records and respond to the request. In highly unusual circumstances, a petition may be made to the circuit court for even more time to respond, if an accommodation cannot be reached between the agency and the requestor.

The Freedom of Information Act does not provide for “standing requests”, as for all future “criminal incident information” reports that an agency may produce. FOIA can be applied only to records that already are in existence.

Persons incarcerated in either a state or federal correctional facility cannot request records under FOIA, but do retain the right to call for records which may be used as evidence in criminal prosecution in which they are involved.

FOIA does not require an agency to produce a new document if the requested information is not recorded. However, if the request can be fulfilled by adapting an existing document then it must be done.

If you have any questions regarding these guidelines, you may contact the FOIA Administrator. In addition, the Virginia Freedom of Information Council is available to answer your FOIA questions. The Council may be contacted by email at foiacouncil@leg.state.va.us or by phone at 1-866-448-4100.

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