Public records requests, fees at issue in reporting rape-kit testing story

By Scott McIntosh

For several weeks, Idaho Press-Tribune reporter Ruth Brown worked on a story about the testing of rape kits in Canyon County.

What she found out was that only about 10 percent of the rape kits — 12 out of 117 kits submitted — had been submitted to the state lab for testing in the past five years from the city of Nampa.

Meanwhile, in Caldwell, the percentage was more like 54 percent, and the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office submitted 52 percent of its kits.

Ruth set out to find out the reasons rape kits weren’t being submitted. What she hit were a series of reporting obstacles.
Here is how Ruth explained to the Press-Tribune’s readers her struggles to get information:

For this story, the Idaho Press-Tribune submitted a series of public records requests over two months to every law enforcement agency in Canyon County, asking for the number of rape kits collected since 2010 as well as the number of kits actually tested.

From Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 5, 2015, the Nampa Police Department has collected 117 rape kits into evidence. Of those kits, 12 were sent to a lab for testing.

When asked to explain the reasons the remaining 105 were never tested, the Nampa Police Department estimated it would take about 26.25 hours to find the answer.

While Idaho Code requires the first two hours of public record research be free to the public, the remaining 24.25 hours were estimated to cost $905.25.

The Caldwell Police Department collected 79 rape kits into evidence between Jan. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2015. Of those kits, 37 were sent to a lab for testing, 10 were sent but not tested, 26 were never sent and six are currently at the lab.

When asked to explain why 36 kits were not sent in for testing, the Caldwell Police Department estimated it would take nine hours to find the answer. Without further information from the Caldwell Police Department, there was no explanation as to why 10 of the kits were sent to the lab but never tested.

Again, while the first two hours of public record research are mandate by law to be free of charge, the Caldwell Police Department estimated the remaining seven hours would cost $190.19.

When both the Nampa Police Department and Caldwell Police Department, through their attorney Maren Ericson, responded to the Idaho Press-Tribune citing the need for a fee, the Idaho Press-Tribune sent a follow-up request. Ericson, attorney at Hamilton, Michaelson & Hilty, LLP, represents both cities.

Both Nampa and Caldwell police departments anticipated it would take at least 15 minutes per case to find the answer as to why each untested rape kit was never tested.

The Idaho Press-Tribune requested the fee be waived under Idaho Code 74-102(10)(f)-(i), which states “this information is likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the government.”

The request to Nampa Police for a waiver of their $905.25 fee asked they specify why 105 kits were not submitted for processing.

“Without specifying why each of the 105 kits was not submitted, the numbers carry an unclear meaning,” the Idaho Press-Tribune wrote in its request. “If 105 kits were not submitted at the alleged victim’s request, the impression presented to the public will be vastly different than if 105 kits were not submitted because law enforcement determined there was no crime or testing the kit was unnecessary. The public’s understanding of how the Nampa Police Department investigates and handles evidence regarding potential sexual assaults is vital to understanding how society is or is not protected by law enforcement.”

After Ericson presented the request to Nampa Mayor Bob Henry and Nampa Police Chief Craig Kingsbury, a response was sent stating the Idaho Press-Tribune request did not qualify for a fee waiver.

The response stated that the Nampa Police Department follows Idaho State Police Forensic Services guidelines for the submitting process, which allow the public to understand how the police department handles the kits.

“However, the details you are looking for would go beyond that to look into private, sensitive cases that must be heavily redacted in order to provide you with a small piece of information from each file,” the response from the Nampa Police Department stated.

The Idaho Press-Tribune sent the same request to the Caldwell Police Department asking the agency to specify why 36 of its rape kits were never processed and requested the Caldwell Police Department waive its $190.19 fee.

After Ericson presented the request to Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas and Caldwell Police Chief Chris Allgood, a response was again sent stating the Idaho Press-Tribune’s request did not qualify for a fee waiver.

The City of Caldwell gave the same explanation as to why the fee would not be waived.

The Idaho Press-Tribune declined to pay the fees.

Update: Shortly after the story was published, the Nampa Police Department reached out to Ruth and agreed to share the records with her and go over the reasons those rape kits were not tested.

Ruth is currently working on follow-up stories.

Scott McIntosh is the editor of the Idaho Press-Tribune, and is a board member of the Idaho Press Club