My eyes burst open with excitement. It is early enough in the day that the time before sunrise can be measured in hours instead of minutes. My heart flutters at the snow falling outside and the possibility of this cold December morning. No, it is not Christmas. I am happy because I get to make an open records request.
If that sounds like anything but fun, you are probably right. Yet, I recently watched “Spotlight,” the story of The Boston Globe’s investigation unit that uncovered the pattern of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Massachusetts. I romanticized the notion of requesting public documents, as though my simple request will have me running across the city like Mark Ruffalo’s character in the film, hell-bent on writing the breaking news story only the records can provide.
Despite recognizing the over-hyped version of what the morning could be, I happily settle into the bus seat for the journey ahead. I made the same request over email several weeks ago but a follow-up phone call revealed that the Milwaukee records office was at least eight weeks behind. The lady on the other end of the phone told me that “it could be” quicker if I made the request in-person. Weighing the cost of a 30-minute bus ride against eight weeks of waiting, I boarded city transit to arrive at the police station the minute it opened.
My anxious heart made me believe there would be a long line of people making records requests and that I would have to wait hours just to speak to someone. Wrong again. I think I was at the front desk before the records worker could brew her first cup of coffee. At least, that is the impression I got from her crisp replies. Law enforcement is generally wary of reporters, so when I made my request I employed a set of manners that would make my grandmother blush. The woman was not amused by my aw-shucks grin and repetition of “yes, ma’am.”
She asked me question after question about the case. Word of note for future records seekers: Come with as much background information about the case as possible. Less than a minute later, my mission was complete. My heart fluttered. For the cost of one dollar, I had a printed copy of the request I was told would take eight weeks to process. Lesson learned. Whenever possible, make a request in person.
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.