Motor City Muckraker appeals Detroit’s outrageous costs for public records

As people continue to die waiting for ambulances that take too long to arrive, the city of Detroit is making it impossible for the public to access routine records of EMS runs.

On July 25, Motor City Muckraker requested just three months of EMS records to get an unadulterated look at how long ambulances are taking, the consequences of slow response times and the reasons medics are tied up on other runs.

Earlier this month, the city demanded that we pay up to $42,000 to access the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) records. Even then, city attorney Ellen Ha maintained, the request would be such a burden that it would cripple the emergency communication system for nearly a year.

On Saturday, Motor City Muckraker appealed what we consider excessive and unreasonable costs to Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, who was appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan.
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The city makes the records virtually unobtainable by denying our request for electronic records and insisting that every document must be printed out by a fire dispatcher, who would tie up the department’s lone printer, which is used to communicate with firefighters about emergencies.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in 2001 (Oakland County Treasurer v Title Office) that public agencies are required to produce electronic records when requested.
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“Electronic records are writings as defined by the FOIA. Public bodies are required to provide public records in the format requested,” the court ruled.
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According to sources familiar with the city’s dispatch system, the city can easily sort data and provide it electronically at virtually no cost.

If the city denies our appeal, our final option is to sue the city.

RELATED: Man who spent 16 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit dies waiting 45 minutes for EMS.

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.

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