City of Detroit demands up to $42,000 to produce public EMS records


People are dying because Detroit doesn’t have enough medics on the ground.

Take Dwight Love, who died waiting 45 minutes for an ambulance after spending 16 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Or a child who died last month after medics were tied up on other runs.

Under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, we requested records that show basic information about each ambulance run over the past three months. The city took more than twice the amount of time required by state law to respond, and then demanded between $26,332 and $42,272 to produce the records.

Even if we forked over the money, the city law department maintained, “neither the Fire Department nor the Law Department has the human resources to process your request, as written, without disrupting the regular business of either department,” wrote Ellen Ha, the law department’s chief of staff.

The request would be such a burden, Ha maintains, that it would disable emergency communications.

In other words, not even money will get these records.

So here’s how the city managed to keep public information from becoming public. Although we requested electronic documents, as allowed under the state’s public records law, the city insisted it was necessary to print out all 31,092 computer-aided dispatch (CAD) records, a common source of public safety information that is readily available in most cities and counties. And to print out those records, Ha said, a fire dispatcher would need as many as 2,591 hours – or 323 consecutive business days.

During that time, Ha said, dispatchers would be unable to alert firefighters to emergencies.

“Please note that this process will not only take out a dispatcher from performing his/her regular duties for weeks, but will also tie up a printer used by everyone at the Fire Communications for the duration,” Ha wrote.

Some of the other costs, which are more reasonable, account for time spent redacting personal information that would violate HIPAA privacy laws.

We plan to appeal the costs and urge Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration to work with us to gain access to the records, which will paint a clearer picture of the EMS crisis.

The city is notorious for charging excessive costs to obtain records, and it has been forced to pay back six-figure attorney fees for unlawfully withholding records.

RELATED: Wayne County breaks law with outrageous copying fees

This is what a CAD report looks like:

CAD report

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • dirtydog1776

    Maybe the new Mayor Mike Duggan is having a stripper party at the Mayor’s Mansion and needs the money to stuff down their G-strings?

  • dirtydog1776

    Somebody has to bring home da bacon, since Obama ain’t.

  • Michael Charles

    “Or a child who died last month after medics were tied up on other runs.” This is the other EMS story that the media never pursue. What are the nature of “the other runs” that keep ambulances from responding to dying children? The other runs are 911 caller demands for non-emergency situations that the City readily sends an ambulance to regardless of how absurd the demand. It isn’t just that there “aren’t enough medics on the ground” as to why a child died waiting on an ambulance. It’s the thousands and thousands of non-emergency calls that the city’s politicians, public relations people, and risk management lawyers say the EMS system shouldn’t say “no ambulance response or ride needed”. Stop sending ambulances to everyone that demands one and they would have plenty for everyone who needs one.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      preach! It is not uncommon for EMS to be called for a fake call, and halfway to the hospital, some crackhead bum asks to be let out, he just wanted a ride. No joke this happens. People call the EMS with the intent to rob them of their wallets, or rob the truck of any drugs. People steal and break into parked EMS trucks while the workers are having a meal etc. This can take a truck off the road for days.

      These people are savages, they stole a jaws of life off a fire truck last year, and for a while the entire city of over 700k people had i think only two jaws of life left. Small burbs of 15-20k have their own, or two. 700k people have 2.

      Just lovely people.

      They will call the cops to settle all sorts of civil matters with boss, customers, their landlord, their spouse. There are married couples that call the police once a month, over non violent arguments, they expect cops to show up and be a tie breaker.

      These are stunted borderline retarded adults, and they make up not a insignificant percent of detroit. I would say 3-7% of the population.

      They can easily suck up half or three quarters of the city resources.

    • bebow

      One of my neighbors often uses EMS as a taxi service. She shuffles to the curb carrying a large handbag and hoists herself onto the gurney for transport.

  • A.L. Cadillac

    Don’t forget you can always ask to examine the records under FOIA. That always throws them, and makes it much harder to justify the fee scam.

  • javierjuanmanuel 3 cents per page. How do they come up with these crazy numbers!

  • javierjuanmanuel

    this makes me sick. I have been denied things under FOIA before, and i just assumed it was because i was just a regular joe with no real money to throw hundreds of hours or tens of thousands of dollars on a lawyer. There is absolutely no reason this stuff should cost a dollar per page, and there is no reason it even has to be printed. It should be amassed into a folder, and emailed to you. You should be able to read it as a .pdf

    If this is them being real, and not screwing with you, the new mayor will have a much harder time fixing things if this is their idea of work. You pay someone 60-80k plus bennies, plus pension, plus health insurance that costs half of what median income is in the private market to hit print 40,000 times. What a frickin joke.

    They should be able to outsource this to kinkos and get the bill down to 3-4-5-6 cents per page.

  • Gary

    Arrogance and stupidity are hard behaviors to work with. Until all those bureaucratic sloths are gone it will be fukced for many years to come!