When you watch legal dramas, you see defense attorneys portrayed as very important, very busy people. In real life, the intensity of our daily lives depends on our practice and our caseloads. We do live up to the stereotype in the sense that we are dedicated to winning and using all the resources at our disposal to secure favorable outcomes for our clients. (When I say all the resources at our disposal, I mean within lawful reason. We really can’t go around acting like what TV Tropes describes colorfully as the amoral attorney.)
In any case, you probably don’t picture us standing in line for hours.
AZCentral reports that members of the public seeking police reports are faced with hours-long waits. Insurance company representatives and attorneys have to wait in line with everyone else. Insurance companies hire couriers to fetch accident reports, and attorneys have followed suit, paying assistants to wait in line for them.
An alternative to waiting in line is to submit a written request. Currently, the backlog of written requests is so large that it’s taking 18 months to access Phoenix police records. It’s better to wait in line.
The 18-month backlog presents a problem for attorneys seeking records regarding major crimes such as assault. Certain records cannot be obtained on the same day as the request, because a detective has to review the documents and redact identifying information. This protects the privacy of those involved in an open case. Defense strategies can benefit from police reports, but the delay means that a case might be closed before the defense receives the records. In essence, so much for that strategy.
Part of the problem stems from a positive development: an increased emphasis on transparency has led the public to take advantage of their access to public records. However, the delays undermine public trust. Phoenix has not kept up with the increased demand; meanwhile, Glendale and Mesa police department records can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Hopefully, public pressure and media coverage will speed things up at the Phoenix Police Records Department. The police aren’t happy with the situation, either. While the city has promised to prioritize hiring staff and streamlining the process, The Arizona Republic continues their campaign to make public records in Arizona accessible.