Oh, what a double-edged sword the Freedom of Information Act can be. On the one hand, it is a great tool and very handy for getting information released that would otherwise be kept from the general public. Over the years, some pretty interesting stuff has been revealed through this act. Many times documents are actually released, only to have huge portions blacked out, which only adds to the intrigue. But I imagine that for every legitimate inquiry by a researcher for information, there are dozens if not hundreds of request from wackos wanting information on all sorts of things. It’s quite a fine line, as this story illustrates.
A police chief has hit out at cops being forced to answer “bonkers” questions from the public – such as how many werewoves, vampires and zombies have been investigated.
Chief Constable Ian Arundale is annoyed at officers being forced to spend hours answering “bizarre” queries instead of being on the beat.
So far this year his officers have also logged queries about witches, ghosts, demons, wizards, Big Foot and UFOs.
The rural Dyfed Powys force in Wales is legally required to spend up to 18 hours finding the information needed to answer each request.
Mr Arundale said: “We find ourselves not only dealing with the legitimate inquries but also the bizarre which are time-consuming and take a while to deal with.
“We have to make 20 per cent cuts yet cannot touch a range of statutory obligations such as Freedom of Information.
“It is worrying that we are spending on that and not beat and service delivery.”
Officers throughout the force spent 240 hours this years finding the information as part of the Freedom of Information Act.
One question was if there had ever been a recorded trace of Big Foot in the Welsh countryside and how many sightings of zombies had been recorded.
They have also been asked to find the star signs of car thieves and the owners of the cars they steal.
Dyfed Powys Chief Constable Mr Arundale has lobbied local MP Simon Hart to press for changes in the law.
Mr Hart, Tory MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said: “Frivolous requests are costing a fortune and wasting police time.
“The Freedom of Information Act is a useful tool which I have used myself and which has undoubtedly improved the transparency and accountability of many public institutions.
“The Act has undoubtedly improved the way public bodies work and account for themselves,
“But I am concerned it is also being abused by people making vexatious, petty and sometimes downright bonkers requests.
“It is a worry to me that it could be turning into a bureaucratic monster that is a burden on police time and resources.
“It is time to be looking at introducing more stringent rules on the number, length and nature of requests allowed.”
Where is the line drawn on what is “bonkers?” Most of us don’t actually believe in the existence of vampires, zombies and werewolves. These are the things of matinee horror movies. Many more people consider ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot to be more “possible” to exist, and there are many legitimate and scholarly researchers investigating these phenomena. I understand the police being frustrated by the requests, but that is the price we pay for freedom and transparency.