Public Records

Screenshot of a form allowing users to submit public records requests.

For my master's thesis in Stanford's journalism program, I'm working on a project that involves getting records from a lot of different municipalities.

For data journalists, this is a pretty common problem. A lot of information journalists seek — death records, inspection records, you name it — is collected at the state, county, or municipal level. And data journalists often want to analyze that information across a wide geographic area.

In order to manage this work, I created a Django tool for filing public records requests to multiple agencies at once. I used an early version of this, django_sourcebook, to file requests for a reporting project. Since then, I've worked on building a more interactive version with authentication and tests. That project is foia_integration.

In November 2017, an affidavit was unsealed in Frederick County, Virginia accusing five members of the Strasburg Fire Department, including the department chief, of having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

But despite the public accusations against him, I found through a public records request, the department's chief responded to five calls after the affidavit was unsealed.