Monday’s state Supreme Court ruling that allows police to limit the details they release to the public about arrests is a severe blow to advocates of open government, giving law enforcement authorities far too much control over important information about crimes.
The decision would require police to provide only basic “blotter” data about arrests, such as the names and addresses of those charged with crimes, along with the dates, times and places of arrests, and a list of the charges. During pending cases they no longer would have to make available to the media and public more comprehensive police reports.
The ruling stems from a 2008 complaint by a New Haven Register reporter that state police provided scant information about a mentally ill man from Derby who tried to kill his father. The state Freedom of Information Commission sided with the reporter in ordering the release of more comprehensive reports, but police successfully challenged that decision, first in Superior Court and then in Appellate Court.
Monday’s Supreme Court decision affirming the lower court rulings throws the issue back to the state legislature, noting, “The General Assembly retains the prerogative to modify or clarify (the law) as it sees fit.” In 1994 lawmakers amended the state’s open records law to require police to release additional information, such as arrest reports, incident reports, news releases or other similar reports.
Clearly, legislators intended to make those more detailed reports available to the public. This newspaper agrees and urges state lawmakers to follow through on what the high court suggested: clarify the statute so more information about crime can flow to the public.
As always, the rights of the public to gain access to police reports must be weighed against law enforcement authorities’ need to conduct criminal investigations. We’re confident the right balance can be struck.