FOI Friday: 10 things we’ve learnt this week thanks to the Freedom of Information Act

Car accidents involving the police

In the Midlands, according to the Sunday Mercury, police cars were involved in more than 6,000 accidents in two years. Police took responsibility for a third of them – and the amount paid out in compensation was £1million. A simple FOI but very effective.

The price of water

Councils often use these sorts of FOIs to demonstrate how journalists abuse FOI, but at a time when councils are making cuts to services, should they really be spending £1,000 a year on bottled water for officers and councillors at meetings? Thanks to the Uxbridge Gazette, that’s something the voters can now make their minds up about.

Injuries inflicted upon police officers

The Edinburgh Evening News revealed this week that two dozen police officers in the city had received bite injuries – half from humans – after asking for the injuries sustained by officers on duty:

The bite attacks were revealed as part of a list released under freedom of information laws of 644 injuries suffered by officers and special constables.

Another 103 employees from the force’s 1,400-strong civilian staff were also injured since the start of last year while at work.

One force employee even suffered an electric shock last October in a police office.

A total of 17 fractures and eight dislocations were recorded, and one officer was injured on duty by a needle. Police officers are able to make a civil claim for compensation against anyone who is responsible for them being injured while on duty.

What gets found on the street?

Remember the FOI from the South London Press asking for the  things handed into lost property at King’s Hospital? The Croydon Advertiser has done something similar, asking the police in the town to hand over the list of items handed in as lost property to the police:

A meat cleaver, a crowbar and a police badge were among items handed in at Croydon Police Station by good Samaritans who found them in the street.

Other items handed in by members of the public in January and February this year included five knives, a screwdriver and a golf club.

Figures released following a Freedom of Information request also show police received more than 20 purses or wallets, one Surrey Police warrant card, fake DVDs, clothes and 16 sets of keys – including one set for a Mercedes.

Bad council officers

The benefit of spending time monitoring the results coming through on public FOI site What Do They Know is demonstrated by online news site The Linc, based in Lincolnshire. It reports on an FOI request to Lincolnshire County Council asked for the reasons disciplinary action was begun against staff, and the outcomes of the cases.

Sex offenders on the run

The Northern Echo has been doing some fine work with FOI, seeking the names of sex offenders on the sex offenders’ register in their area who had gone missing from their designated homes. North Yorkshire Police and Cleveland Police both handed over the names and details of when they disappeared, but Northumbria Police refused on the grounds it breached the rights of the convicts. Yes, that’s right, the police were worried about breaching the rights of sex attackers who’d broken the terms of their sentence.  Anyway, the fact the Echo publicised the fact seems to have paid off, as the police are now starting to release more information, but sadly not yet the names.

Turned away from maternity wards

Labour is fond of reminding us that it introduced  the Freedom of Information Act. The Tories must be grateful for that, since it enabled them to grab a decent headline this week – suggesting two mothers a day are turned away from maternity wards every day. Of course, the Tories are seeking this information for political ends, but if you haven’t seen the numbers in your area yet, there’s a good tale to be had, perhaps. An even better tale if you forget to mention the Tories got them.

Knife crime statistics

If you were to read the Hammersmith and Fulham News, you’d be led to believe that crime was falling across the borough. What they won’t tell you is that knife crime, perhaps one of the more serious crimes, is on the rise. So, once again, lets be grateful that the council-owned and council-spin H&F News isn’t the only newspaper in town. The Fulham Chronicle reports, thanks to FOI, that knife crimes which the police class as ‘serious’ – presumably they have a non-serious category too – is rising in Fulham. Talking of which…

…Cost of council newspapers

Something else you won’t read in a council newspaper is how much they cost. The News Shopper has been up against a weekly council ‘newspaper’ for a long time, and now has details of how much it costs:

NEWS Shopper has discovered in one yearGreenwich Council spent a staggering £600,000 producing its own newspaper — a newspaper which only gives you one side of every story.

We submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council, which revealed in the 2008/9 financial year, each copy of Greenwich Time cost more than 11p to print and distribute.

The paper is distributed to around 108,000 households once a week, for 47 weeks of the year, according to the response to our Freedom of Information request.

This meant £570,000 was spent on printing and distribution alone.

When the money raised through advertising is removed from that figure, it’s £170k a year of council cash spent on the newspaper. Helpfully, the newspaper speaks to a local homeless shelter which has to fund its work through charity, and talks about how much that £170k could be delivered.

Speed cameras

A tale which might be hard to replicate elsewhere but a good one all the same. Swindon was the first area in the country to take down speed cameras and guess what,  the number of accidents hasn’t risen. But maybe there is mileage – pardon the pun – in asking for road accident figures on streets with speed cameras and compare them to before hand.

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