Virginia Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located §2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
A public record is any writing recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is prepared or owned, by or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and many only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
Commonly Used Exemptions:
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. These include:
Definition of a Public Record
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
- Exempt from disclosure are all complaints, memoranda, correspondence, case files or reports, witness statements, and evidence relating to a criminal investigation (except for “criminal incident information” relating to felonies).
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.01 (3))
- Engineering and architectural drawings, operational, procedural, tactical planning or training manuals, or staff meeting minutes or other records, the disclosure of which would reveal surveillance techniques, personnel deployments, alarm or security systems or technologies, or operational and transportation plans or protocols, to the extent such disclosure would jeopardize the security of any governmental facility, building or structure or the safety of persons using such facility, building or structure. § 2.2-3705.2(6).
- Law enforcement agency records containing specific tactical plans when their disclosure would jeopardize the safety or security of law enforcement personnel or the general public. Also included in this exemption are records of emergency services agencies containing specific tactical plans related to anti-terrorist activity.
§ 2.2-3706 (F)(7).
- Any information describing the design, function, operation or access control features of any security system used to control access to or use of any automated data processing or telecommunications system. § 2.2-3705.2(3).
- Subscriber data provided by a telecommunications carrier to an agency operating a 911, E-911 or reverse 911 system, if such records are not available to the general public. §2.2-3705.2(11).
- Information and records acquired during a review of any child death by the State Child Fatality Review Team. § 2.2-3705.5(9).
- Confidential records, including victim identity, provided to staff of a rape crisis center or a program for battered spouses. § 2.2-3705.2(1).
- Computer programs used to process data which may be included within official records. § 2.2-3705.1(6).
- Tests or examinations administered to applicants for employment or candidates for promotion. §2.2-3705.1(4).
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increases awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
To request a report pertaining to a crime or an accident report, please print off the request form (PDF)
and mail it to or bring it into the department.
Your FOIA Rights:
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
- If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion. The Council may be reached at (804)225-3056 or toll free at 1-866-448-4100
"A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general coasts associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of §
2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia"
You may have to pay for the records that you request. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.
If you owe us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, we may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.