Taxpayers interested in finding out how the North Charleston Police Department spends its $27 million budget can pick up a pre-packaged binder and immediately find information on everything from salaries ($13.5 million) to expenditures on a new canine bite suit ($1,200).
Taxpayers interested in the city of Charleston's $35 million police department budget can do the same and quickly learn how it spent about $724,000 on overtime and $135,000 on tires.
But prying similar information from the State Law Enforcement Division isn't so simple.
On Thursday, three weeks after The Post and Courier asked for information about SLED's expenditures, and after a public harangue by SLED's director over the newspaper's request, the agency released two boxes full of budget data on salaries, purchases and other payments over the past five years.
The newspaper was examining the information Thursday and plans to meet with SLED officials next week to discuss the data. Requests for additional information under the state's open records act are still being processed.
The agency's slow response, and the director's vilification of a reporter seeking the data, shows how difficult it is for the public to get a basic understanding of how the state's top law enforcement agency spends tax dollars.
The S.C. comptroller general keeps more detailed information on some state agency costs on its "spending transparency" Web site, including monthly expenditures on travel, contracts and other supplies.
In addition, some financial information can be found in SLED's "accountability report," a document all state agencies are required to compile.
The reports identify the agency's goals, accomplishments, revenues and expenditures. These reports are posted on the S.C. Budget and Control Board's new "transparency hub."
But the financial data in the accountability reports are limited at best; unlike North Charleston's police budget, for instance, the state accountability reports don't identify how much an agency spent on travel, new vehicles or overtime.
On July 24, The Post and Courier asked SLED for detailed budget figures and was told to submit a Freedom of Information Act request.
A week later, the agency responded by presenting a two-page printout from a Web site and a bill for $58.50. Reggie Lloyd, SLED's director, grilled a reporter for nearly 20 minutes over the request, eventually calling his predecessor's accounting system "a joke." After the paper printed that comment, Lloyd issued a press release calling the story "a lie," even though the reporter had recorded Lloyd's comments.
Several state lawmakers have since questioned Lloyd's behavior. In a more recent interview, Lloyd made no apologies and said his agency had taken great lengths to gather the data.
On Thursday, SLED provided hundreds of pages of information, organized into categories, at no charge.
By comparison, the Department of Natural Resources took just two days to release expenditures during its most recent fiscal year. The Department of Public Safety took three days.