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Posts about Public records

Update: Minneapolis police will release crime data in Excel format

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: September 12, 2013 - 1:52 PM

Update: MinnPost reports the Minneapolis Police Department posted the Excel data files once again. Assistant Chief Matt Clark sent MinnPost an e-mail saying "The MPD values transparency with the public, and we want to provide any department information that can be lawfully shared."

Original Post: The Minneapolis Police Department stopped issuing crime data in an Excel format just weeks after MinnPost launched an interactive crime data application.

On Aug. 21, MinnPost released a Minneapolis Crime news app, which aggregated monthly neighborhood crime data in order to identify crime trends by neighborhoods. MinnPost fed the application with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Excel monthly neighborhood crime reports.

MinnPost news developers Alan Palazzolo and Kaeti Hinck wrote that they went to the police department’s website Tuesday to update their app, and to their surprise found a message saying “Do(sic) to issues with the Excel formats we will no longer be posting them.”

Read the full response from MPD to MinnPost here.

State: Owner of "Liquor Pig" sexually harassed employee

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: September 4, 2013 - 2:56 PM

 A St. Cloud liquor store owner agreed to pay a former employee $30,000 after the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found probable cause of sexual harassment.

Brian Fanfulik, owner of Liquor Pig, allegedly subjected an employee to “gestures that were evocative of masturbation and oral sex, and the slapping of the charging party’s buttocks” and repeatedly told her they should have sex, according to a memorandum of probable cause from the Human Rights Department made public last week.

In her complaint, the employee said Fanfulik threatened to charge her with theft if she pursued a sexual harassment claim against him. She said he falsely accused stealing time by taking smoke breaks, making personal phone calls and having lunch with her boyfriend.

The employee quit after the threats. The Department of Human Rights determined the “work conditions were so objectively intolerable” that she was forced to quit.

When contacted by the department, Fanfulik took issue with the employees performance, but “largely ignored” the sexual harassment claims, the memorandum said.

An employee at Liquor Pig said Fanfulik was not available for comment.

First-person: Sheriff's clerk refuses to hand over public records

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: September 3, 2013 - 4:50 PM

By Chao Xiong, the Star Tribune's Ramsey County courts reporter

It was supposed to be a routine assignment: Drive up to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Patrol Division in Arden Hills and pick up the public incident report about the homicide of a man found dead in Shoreview. But an encounter with the sheriff’s records clerks Friday became an unexpected struggle for public data.

I asked the first clerk for the public incident report, and she said it was not available because the case was under investigation. A public portion should always be available, I said, even for active cases. A second clerk stepped in and told me they couldn’t release a report until there was an arrest. I made a point that I parroted multiple times that afternoon: A public incident report is required by law, and the sheriff’s office is required to provide it upon request. The clerk was unmoved. Twice she pointed out that there was a news release about the case in which a man was believed to have been gunned down. Each time I told her that a news release is not the same thing as a public incident report.

The experience shocked me. A simple request was being met with such force and defiance. I couldn’t fathom why the clerks were unfamiliar with the Minnesota Data Practices Act, which requires law enforcement to release basic information about the time, location and address of a police call, among other information. It’s basic protocol followed by other agencies across the metro. I wasn’t trying to trick anyone into giving me something they shouldn’t.

Sure, I had a personal stake in the outcome of Friday’s encounter (I had a story to write), but I wondered: What does this say about greater transparency within the department? How often are others incorrectly told they can’t get access to state-mandated public information? I’m a journalist; I’ll just stick around long after it’s obvious I’m being rebuffed by people who openly and intensely dislike me. But how many ordinary citizens would just give up?

After much back-and-forth, I was given a one-sentence report (shown above) that read, “Death Investiation (sic) of black male in Shoreview.” The page said it was “Page 4 of 6,” but pages 1-3 and 5 and 6 were nowhere to be found. I told the clerk that a public incident report should have the date, time and location of the call. She said they didn’t have to provide that until there was an arrest.

“I want to know that in the future I can come in and get a public incident report,” I said.

The clerk insisted that I was wrong; they didn’t have to provide me anything until there was an arrest. I’m not sure where she got that idea, which she repeated a few times Friday.

Frustrated, I left. In follow-up conversations via email, sheriff’s spokesman Randy Gustafson said the sheriff’s office has a “cumbersome” records management system from 1998 that makes generating public incident reports difficult. I informed him that at no time did the clerks cite a cumbersome computer system for their reluctance to produce a report.

I spoke with Sheriff Matt Bostrom, not to pout about Friday’s situation, but to smooth the road for future transactions and to address transparency at this office.

“I acknowledge that you have a right to the public information, and that an arrest is not relevant to the public information release,” Bostrom said. “I think that one of the things – I’m trying to be a good boss here and support my employees here – is that we do have a difficult records management system and it is not friendly…”

Bostrom said that unlike other programs, their system does not automatically separate public and private information in a report. Someone has to read a report and create a new, separate public document that redacts private information.

“It is scary for them to do that, because they don’t want to disrupt a case, particularly in what appears to be a homicide,” Bostrom said.

I don’t think that excuses the sheriff’s office from undertaking the effort when a request is made. It doesn’t seem right to hold the public accountable for staff reluctance and deficient products. (Isn’t the public paying those people to do that work?) I also reminded Bostrom that the issue in Arden Hills was not the system, but that the clerks did not feel compelled to follow state law.

It was good to hear Bostrom say that his office is reviewing vendors for a new records management system that he hopes will run smoother, and that will possibly allow the public to view reports online for free. The process of rolling out a new system would likely take more than a year, he said. The sheriff also said he’d look at any “gaps” in training that could have contributed to Friday’s debacle.

“We will do better,” he said.


Real estate company fined for charging upfront fees

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: August 19, 2013 - 3:03 PM

 A California-based real estate brokerage company engaged in unlicensed mortgage modifications in Minnesota and charged upfront fees for services that were never rendered, according to a Minnesota Department of Commerce enforcement action issued last month.

Commercial Loan Solutions LLC and its owners Charles T. Heppner and Benjamin Ackerman of Los Angeles were fined $25,000 for promising to modify mortgages in Minnesota and charging upfront fees in 2010 and 2011. The loans weren't modified, and the homeowners were denied a refund, according to the documents.

Commercial Loan Solutions is the latest company to be fined for failing to deliver on loan modifications and charging upfront fees, which is illegal in the state.

In May the Star Tribune reported the Department of Commerce had taken enforcement action against 36 individuals for violating mortgage modification laws.

Heppner and Ackerman were not licensed real estate brokers or loan originators, the documents said. A loan originator license is required to modify loans in Minnesota.



Appeals still putting guns into questionable Minnesota hands

Posted by: Brandon Stahl Updated: March 1, 2013 - 3:47 PM

Last year, 38 Minnesotans successfully appealed their denial or revocation of a permit to carry a handgun. This is despite some of them being denied permits for reasons such as having active orders for protection filed against them, histories of drug crimes or assaults, or numerous arrests.

That's according to the 2012 permit to carry report released today by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Thanks to the BCA providing the Star Tribune some of the information early, we've already reported on permits issued last year (a record 31,657), and the number of crimes by permit holders and justifiable uses reported, (though we now know those numbers are too low). And we did a story on permit applicants who were initially denied, only to get those permits on appeal up to 2011.

What we didn't have was the 2012 appeal information until today, which shows that last year of the 252 applicants initially denied, 61 of those appealed. Of those, about 62 percent were successful. Some of those permit holders were initially denied for reasons like:

  • "2008 and 2009 domestic assault arrests. Police reports state you said you were going to kill the victim and the children and that you didn't care if there was a no contact order, you would go back to the address."
  • "Pattern of drug use documented through contacts with law enforcement."
  • "Numerous arrests and convictions including assault, disorderly conduct, theft, receiving and concealing property, giving police officer false information show pattern of poor decision making and lack of good judgement."
  • "History of anger management issues including threatening to kill an employer and domestic assault."

While the permit-to-carry statute requires sheriffs departments to report denial reasons, it doesn't require providing information on why an appeal was successful. The reports also don't provide the name of any permit applicant, which is protected by state law. Since 2003, 337 applicants have successfully appealed their denial, seeing about a 50 percent success rate.

Click here for a sortable database of all of the permit to carry denials and appeals since 2003, collected from the BCA reports.


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