SUNSHINE WEEK: Persistent public records requests bear fruit

Starting in November, GateHouse Media Delaware began to look for records showing exactly what military surplus was transferred to Dewey Beach, and to a subset of the state’s 32 participating departments.

We determined that the program was administered by the state through a master agreement with the Defense Logistics Agency, with all requests for equipment passing through the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

As it turns out, each town with a participating police department is responsible for checking on what it is receiving and where it’s going. The state office is merely a clearinghouse for requests – sometimes, but rarely, the state coordinator will turn down a request.

More often, the LESO administrators in Michigan will nix a request for any of a number of reasons. Mostly, they are denied because the equipment has gone to another police agency somewhere else.

All records are kept in a federal computer database called FEPMIS, and the state and participating police are required to have access to it.

However, in response to a FOIA request for inventory records, DEMA claimed that it had none for any of the state’s 32-plus participating departments. Communications Director Wendy Hudson directed us to the LESO website, where the most recent local inventory for all states is posted as an Excel spreadsheet.

In November and December, through a series of emails with Media Relations Chief Michelle McCaskill in the DLA media relations office, we learned much more about the program’s workings.

Certain equipment, coded Demil A or Q, could be disposed of after one year, while militarized items were to be inventoried annually. The A- and Q-class items stay in the inventory record for one year, then vanish. So it became clear that only records over a period of years would show what flowed in to each police department.

While DEMA asserted it did not have inventories and could not produce them, the DLA media office quickly provided spreadsheets with inventories for all of Delaware from 2013-2016, along with other materials breaking down the transfers.

It did not seem credible that the state office for the program had no access to its own records, because the DLA agreement requires the state to maintain records for five years. The Dover Post filed a FOIA complaint with the state attorney general’s office. That office concluded, based on an affidavit filed by Schall, that DEMA couldn’t produce the records because they were on a federal computer system – it didn’t matter it is one that all LESO participants are required to have access to.