The search for public records: Digging around in the archives

The City of Cleveland’s Public Records Center is the hub to get access to city government records, including police reports, orders from the mayor’s office, employee salaries, building permits, and crime stats. To get access, all you need to do is complete a short account sign-up. Click here for some video instructions.

Once signed in, you can request documents for specific items of interest to you and use the Public Records Archive and Trending Topics sections to look up documents others have already requested. To learn more about requesting public records, take a free text course

The Public Records archives aren’t infallible; some search items may not show results when you expect you should find something. But you also might stumble on interesting information you hadn’t thought would exist just by browsing the already-released records.  Check out our Twitter thread where we dug into the archives.

Knowing where to look and what to look for is key to successfully researching public records. Fruitful records searches can lead to everything from getting media and public exposure for important issues to accountability for major disasters

So what makes you curious? Here’s some good searches of information that already exists in the Public Records Archive based on our own interests: 
  • Police Monitor - Are you passionate about police reform and accountability? All information released from the Cleveland Division of Police about incidents involving its officers  can be found here.   
  • Neighborhood Watch - Want to know if your neighborhood has experienced a shift in criminal activity? Look for previously-released data by searching the Archives for your neighborhood. 
  • Citizen Journalist - Do you want to be a citizen blogger? A government watchdog? Want to know where your tax dollars are going? Budgets, grants, contracts, and other finance records are public information.
  • Political/Social Advocate - Are you supporting a cause for social justice? The Public Records Archive shows statistics others have already asked to see on government policies that affect specific populations in Cleveland, like infant mortality rates and the money spent to support pre-natal social programs, and hate crimes against Asian-Americans since the beginning of the pandemic.    
  • Concerned Citizen - Your neighbor’s car was just stolen and you’re concerned about the safety of your own property. A family member was assaulted and you need details. All reports of cases between individuals are released here, and the only information you must have is a date and location.    
  • True-Crime Solver - If you’re interested in police forensics, or using the Internet to help solve crimes, a search in the archives for crime-investigation records can yield fascinating results.  

To learn more about how to access public records, sign up for the free course cooperation with the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative and Cleveland Documenters.