Mathematics, Little Rock Government, and the AFOIA

Pictured: Not a mathematician.

Last week, following this post about the flaws inherent in Little Rock Police Department’s decision to charge 3 dollars “per CD” when responding to Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (“AFOIA”) requests, Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter said via email, “I made it clear that we can only charge the cost, and it was discovered that is about $.58 per CD”

Now, if I know only two things in life, they are (1) a lot of lawyers are terrible at math and (2) you really shouldn’t trust Tom Carpenter’s proclamations on much of anything without doing your homework first. So, I sent a request to the Little Rock Police Department for all invoices showing any purchases of CD or DVDs since January 1, 2017.

I received those documents back today — via email, FYI — and did some mathin’ of my own. And, while I am sure everyone isĀ shocked to hear this, it appears that the 58 cents per disc figure was wrong.

Let’s back up just slightly for context, though. The LRPD buys three general types of storage-media discs: CD-R, DVD-R, and DVD-RW. Of those, only the first two are the type that you would ever need to receive an AFOIA response on, since the DVD-RW discs are rewritable, and there is little reason that anyone would want to be able to write over something they’d requested (nor should the LRPD want someone to be able to add material to a disc that the PD provided).

Since January 1, 2017, the LRPD has purchased:

  • 4,750 CD-R discs at a total cost of $1,165.23, for an average cost of 24.5 cents per disc;
  • 2,200 DVD-R discs at a total cost of $686.70, for an average cost of 31.2 cents per disc;
  • 3,750 DVD-RW discs at a total cost of $3,487.50, for an average cost of 93 cents per disc.

As noted in the previous posts, the Little Rock Police Department can only charge a requestor the actual cost of the disc provided. So, a person getting documents or audio recordings on a CD-R could be charged 25 cents. A person getting video on a DVD-R could be charge 31 cents.

But how did Carpenter get to 58 cents? At first, I thought maybe he lumped all of the disc types together, but even doing that gives you 10,700 discs for $5,339.43, which is only 49.9 cents per disc. (Not that lumping the discs together for price purposes complies with the AFOIA, mind you.) So…I’m at a loss. It appears to be some number he either got from the LRPD and did not verify, some number based on outdated data that is no longer relevant here, or some number that he pulled out of the ether in the hopes that we would all believe him.

Whatever the reason, the fact that the City of Little Rock, vis-a-vis the City Attorney and Little Rock Police Department, cannot be relied upon (1) to understand the law before promulgating a new policy about what they are going to charge or (2) to do some basic math before telling this blog and (apparently) the Democrat-Gazette what the “right” price should be for charging citizens for access to public records is a perfect illustration of how badly new leadership is needed in Little Rock.

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