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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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The unprecedented events of 2020 caused increased public records requests for COVID-19 data and information about crisis planning and processes. The types of requests are becoming more complex for health departments, law enforcement, and public safety agencies. Additionally, the rush to remote work during the pandemic led to inaccessible, non-digitized records, increasing the time to release.

According to the first Peers in Public Records (PiPR) Index Report from GovQAthe unprecedented events of 2020 drove up public records request volumes and increased processing times due to complexities with audio, video, and other large files.  The increase in complexity is due to the sheer number of elements in a public records system, the diversity in what types of data are in a system, and the connected nature of different public records.

“As the public becomes more aware of the availability and usefulness of public records, new requesters are entering the system at a higher rate than ever before. Requests range from emails and texts to video from dash, body-worn, and 24/7 stationary cameras,” GovQA said in a press release.

The report identified an increase in public records requests by 35 percent in the past year, with the total time an average agency spends processing requests skyrocketing by 286 percent at the same time. A predominantly notable increase was the file sizes, up 25 percent in the past quarter and 333 percent since the Index launched in 2018, which is mainly due to growing demand for larger files such as audio and video data.

“Given the increased awareness of public records accessibility, the media trying to gather data for 24-hour news cycles, and the increase in successful litigation in compliance lawsuits, this complexity trend is likely to continue,” said Jennifer Snyder, chief evangelist at GovQA.

Understanding trends in public records requests can help state and local government leaders make informed decisions on budgeting, staffing levels, technology investments, and the business case for using American Rescue Plan Act funds for new records management technologies.

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