ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – During the pandemic, the city got more requests for public records than ever. That increased demand plus new challenges of working from home in 2020, caused delays. “We have been working overtime for some time now to clear the backlog of requests,” said Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson.
Police videos and copies of emails are the kinds of public records that Watson said are taking longer to release during the pandemic. Sometimes 45 to 60 days, according to an automatic response KRQE News 13 received after making a request last month. New Mexico law allows for just 15 business days, unless the request is excessively burdensome or broad.
“We get a large number of very simple requests, which we are usually able to fulfill within 10-15 days, but large requests have become more challenging,” Watson said.
Like many New Mexicans, the staff of 11 processing records requests full-time for the city, started working from home in March 2020. “It has been a challenging year, which I think everyone recognizes,” said Watson.
In addition, the city clerk said Albuquerque got more requests than ever. The city received 9,470 requests in 2020 compared with 8,622 the year before. Part of that could be from offices closing. People could no longer walk into the police department and quickly get a copy of a crash report. However, the city also said something else stuck out.
“We are seeing an uptick in background check requests and requests for really old police reports on microfilm,” Watson explained. He believes that is because of a newer state law that allows people to expunge certain criminal records. “We are really trying to come up with new ways to address this increase in demand.”
One solution the city is working on is to make more records available online, specifically documents that do not have a lot of personal information that require redactions. It is a move the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) supports. “Any efforts that any government agency can make to make their operation operations more transparent and more accountable are good things,” said NMFOG Executive Director Melanie Majors.