The only request for access to concealed handgun permits at Maine’s larger police departments over the past year came from the Bangor Daily News earlier this month.
That newspaper’s formal inquiry sparked an outcry from many permit holders and lawmakers, including Gov. Paul LePage. That triggered successful emergency legislation to temporarily block those records from the public domain Tuesday.
The Sun Journal conducted an informal survey of the state’s larger police departments that issue the permits. In Maine, if a town and city doesn’t issue concealed handgun permits, that task falls to Maine State Police.
Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere said his department received the Bangor newspaper’s request under the Freedom of Access Act on Feb. 13, followed two days later by a letter withdrawing that request.
Otherwise, Bussiere said his department typically gets as many as a dozen formal requests for public records a year. They generally include insurance companies seeking accident records and other damage or theft information. They also include requests for information regarding custody disputes or for protection-from-abuse orders. News media often put in requests for various records.
His department reviews all requests to make sure the information sought is subject to the state’s open-records law, Bussiere said.
A city attorney will review a request if the request is overly broad or the requested information falls into a gray area of the public records law. Any denials are accompanied by an explanation that cites language from the law, he said.
Most of the requests that come to the Lewiston Police Department deal with specific cases, Bussiere said.
Similarly, Lt. Tim Cougle, a spokesman at the Auburn Police Department said his department has seen no other requests specifically for concealed permit records over the past year. Most of the requests his department gets are from individuals seeking records of their arrests, incidents or accidents or those of associates.
The same holds true for the Bangor Police Department, said Sgt. Paul Edwards, department spokesman.
Vern Malloch, assistant chief at the Portland Police Department, the biggest in the state, said his department hadn’t received any formal requests for public records about the city’s 802 active concealed handgun permits. The city’s attorney, who has handled public records requests for the past two decades, can’t remember anyone seeking information about permits during her tenure, Malloch said.
The Portland Police Department typically gets up to 10 requests a year for public records under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. Most requests come from media and attorneys, Malloch said. If a nonprofessional is seeking information, it usually is someone collecting data from a larger region than just Portland, he said.
A legal spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety said his agency doesn’t file requests for public records by category to easily sort which among them were requests for access to concealed weapon permits. According to Christopher Parr, the department processes all requests for information, even those without express reference to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, as FOAA requests.
In 2012, the Maine State Police Records Management Service received an estimated 4,829 requests for records. The traffic division received another 1,356 for crash reports, and 8,614 more automated requests were received through the agency’s website.
Parr noted that over the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in requests for public records. In 2000, Maine State Police received only 53 requests for public records compared to 4,829 last year.
Parr’s theory is that the increase is due to technology advances, which make electronic request and delivery easy, and that “the public has become better informed about their ability to access public records, as well as about right to know laws such as Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.”