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According to guidelines published by HHS.gov, some fees apply in certain scenarios:

Fee Guidelines

There is no initial fee to make a FOIA request, and in some cases no fees are charged.

Departmental Regulations allow us to recover part of the costs associated with processing FOIA requests.

For fee purposes, FOIA divides requesters into three categories:

1 Commercial use requesters are charged for any search time, document review, and duplication

2 News media, educational, or scientific requesters are charged for duplication only, after the first 100 pages

3 All other requesters are charged for search time (after two hours) and duplication (after 100 pages)

You may make a specific statement in your request limiting the amount of fees you are willing to pay. If you do not state a specific fee limit we will assume that you are willing to pay all fees incurred while processing your request.

So I realize fees might make this prohibitively expensive. That aside:

To add some context for a use-case where I might want to make mass requests for all police reports involving burglary or shootings:

  • Buying my first home, I didn't think to search for any articles mentioning shootings in the area.
  • A shooting happened very close to my house.
  • I searched and realized there were a significant number of local news stories mentioning shootings on my street over the past few years.
  • I thought it might be useful to make an app that, based on the user's location, scrapes police reports for reports mentioning burglary / violence key words at a nearby address.

I'm wondering about, fee considerations aside, whether some legal limitations on FOIA would prevent someone from requesting all police reports matching these criteria, potentially a large number of documents.

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    As a practical matter, it is highly unlikely that it would be useful or necessary to request this sort of information via the FOIA. Just about any police department is going to have some form of police blotter (i.e. web2.coloradosprings.gov/policeblotter) that provides a list of the incidents they responded to and their location. And there are already sources like communitycrimemap.com May 19, 2022 at 16:44
  • Your assumptions are wrong: FOIA is for federal documents from federal agencies, and news articles are from media outlets which are privately owned. May 19, 2022 at 16:46
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    @BlueDogRanch Almost every US state (perhaps every one) has a state FOIA that closely tracks the Federal one, although details, procedures and exceptions may be somewhat different. The state law may go by a different name than FOIA. Some are called "sunshine" laws, although in some states that term refers to open meeting laws. You are, however, correct that neither stare nor Federal FOIA are used for getting access to newspaper archives. May 19, 2022 at 18:40

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First note that HHS is a federal agency, and "the police" are not a federal agency. You have to look into the law governing the specific agency. At the federal level, this is controlled by 5 USC 552, which starts by saying what every agency must make available. Under certain circumstances, an agency can charge search fees, but there is no limit under federal law regarding the maximum number of requests that can be made.

If you want police records, you have to investigate the rules of your state. In Washington, once you have passed the subject-matter bar (records that are exempt from disclosure), there is, again, no limit on the number of requests that can be made by an individual / organization. This is explicitly recognized in Zink v. City of Mesa, 140 Wn. App. 328 where the court finds that "the PDA does not place a limit on the number of record requests an individual can make", even when the number of requests made of this tiny village was arguably a significant burden on their resources.

It depends on what the governing law is. I am not aware of any state that stipulates a maximum number of requests, but there are a lot of states to check.

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There are already multiple services collecting crime reports for individual ZIP codes, and within those for specific neighborhoods. I used such a service when buying a house several years ago. A real estate agent suggested it. Some online real estate listing link to such a service.

I think that such services use a database of crimes based on public police reports, supplemented by news archives, so no FOI requests were needed. Some at least are ad-funded, and do not charge the person making a query.

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