LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Freedom of Information requests are overwhelming some law enforcement agencies, and most of the requests are being made by content creators or bloggers who post dashcam and body cam videos online to increase the number of subscribers or in some cases to make money.
The requested videos show officers pulling their weapons on suspects, conducting high-speed chases, tactical vehicle intervention or PIT maneuvers, and sometimes helping motorists change their tires. They are eye-catching, adrenaline-pumping videos that generate a lot of attention and a lot of FOI requests.
Colonel Mike Hagar is the Director of Arkansas State Police and says the number of FOI requests ASP received started growing a few years ago and hasn’t stopped.
“I had no idea that we had the volume of requests we did. They’ve just grown and grown and grown. It’s just shocking to me,” Hagar said.
According to ASP, roughly 2,701 FOI requests were submitted in 2022. As of Oct. 5, 2023, they have received 3,340 and of those, nearly 1,400 are from commercial users, such as YouTube and blog accounts. Col. Hagar believes the state’s FOIA is being abused and doesn’t believe that’s what it was intended for.
“What it has become is a business,” he said. “Our FOI laws are much more liberal here so people can capitalize on that.”
James Bozeman owns “Natural State Transparency,” a YouTube channel that has nearly 75,000 subscribers and more than 700 videos – highlighting several different law enforcement agencies in the state.
“I started my channel back in 2012 not thinking I was going to monetize it and make money off these videos or anything to that effect,” Bozeman said. “It was just a hobby.”
That changed about two years ago when he saw a huge warehouse fire in east Little Rock.
“That’s where I got my start. I filmed that. I was at the Simmons Tower in my office, and I saw that from the 15th floor, and I got in my car and raced down there and went “live” on Facebook,” he said.
Since then, Bozeman has added hundreds of law enforcement videos to his channel thanks in large part to FOI requests.
“A lot of people that get these videos, unfortunately they cherry pick what they want to show, and they take out most of the details.”
But Bozeman says he’s the antithesis of a syndicated show.
“I am a person who will show you the moment that the dashcam starts recording until it turns off,” Bozeman said. “I think the public has a right to see that. I think it’s a necessity.”
He added, “It’s helping change a false narrative that’s perpetuated over and over again with sensationalized videos.”
Not only is his YouTube channel getting a lot of views, but it’s also generating a lot of money.
According to the website, “Social Blade”, which tracks statistics and measures growth, “Natural State Transparency” generates between $1,000 and $15,000 a month. The more viewers, the more money.
“To me, this is not so much about making money as it is about showing all the interactions. Not only does it show the person being arrested as a human, but it shows the trooper as a human too,” Bozeman said.
But some argue, including Arkansas State Police, that the number of FOI requests from content creators like Bozeman is out of control.
“I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but it’s debilitating. The majority of the FOI requests that we receive have one of two purposes and it’s either for profit or it’s for harassment.”
To find out who submitted the most FOI requests to ASP for dashcam videos, we submitted our own. This is what we found according to ASP.
TOP 5 FOI REQUESTS TO ASP FROM 2022 TO 2023
- Little Rock Hood News: 72
- Police Pursuits: 102
- South Ark Weather: 103
- Shorty Duwop: 245
- Natural State Transparency: 814
Despite the considerable number of FOI requests from Bozeman, he doesn’t believe it’s excessive or harassment.
“I don’t think it’s a hassle. The onus is on the agency to handle that, and the government has the resources that I do not have,” he said.
Joan Shipley is the Chief Legal Counsel for the Department of Public Safety. Even though she understands that every Arkansan has the legal right to submit a FOI request, she is quick to point out how burdensome the requests have become.
“We are at a point now that we are beginning to add staff so that we can handle all the requests coming in in a timely manner.”
According to ASP, in 2022, the legal department spent more than 4,100 hours reviewing and redacting dashcam videos because of FOI requests costing taxpayers nearly $100,000. Shipley says some of the requests are hard to believe.
“We’ve gotten requests for all traffic stops over a period of months which would be thousands of traffic stops,” she added.
Arkansas State Police does have its own YouTube channel, but at this point, it does not post all its videos online. That’s something the legal department and Colonel Hagar are considering. They also are considering charging people a fee.
According to FOIA, a request that “requires more than three hours of personnel or equipment time to fulfill the request shall be charged at a rate that does not exceed twenty dollars ($20.00) per hour on a prorated basis for each hour of running time of audio media, visual media, or audiovisual media.”
But ASP says it has never charged anyone for such a request.
“I think one of the reasons we haven’t up until this point is because we’ve been able to meet our FOI requests,” Shipley said.
But she also says they may end up having to if things don’t change.
One interesting side note that needs to be mentioned. One of the top content creators who submitted more than a hundred FOI requests to state police over the past two years is Chadwick Dell Gibson, who owns and operates the YouTube channel, Police Pursuits.
He also happens to be a dispatcher for ASP. We reached out to him via email for an interview and never heard back. We did ask ASP if this was a conflict of interest or a violation of department policy.
They responded by saying, “ASP employees have the same right to access public information under FOIA as any Arkansas resident. Self-employed personnel and those employed by private companies and organizations must receive prior approval and must strictly adhere to the policy.”
A policy we have learned and confirmed, Gibson did not follow until after his YouTube channel went “live,” but was allowed to continue to operate after he submitted the appropriate forms and paperwork.