Don’t Let Police Decide What Public Should Know – Hartford Courant Editorial

The cause of open government in Connecticut has taken extraordinarily hard knocks of late, undermining this state’s once-sterling reputation nationally for valuing openness and promoting the free flow of information. One of the hardest was a disappointing state Supreme Court ruling last year that severely limits the amount of information that local police departments and the state police are required to disclose about an arrest while prosecution is pending.

House Bill 6750 would do a public service in reversing that ruling. It would restore the proper balance between government transparency and privacy and fair-trial interests.

‘What Is Good For Them To Know’

The legislature passed the Freedom of Information Act 40 years ago. Its preamble said, “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know.”

Yet under the high court’s 2014 ruling, police have to disclose only so-called blotter information on an arrest while a prosecution is pending (which can take years). Blotter information is name, address and date of birth of the person arrested; the date, time and place of arrest; and the criminal charge.

Police also must release just one of the following: the arrest report, incident report, news release or similar document. But a news release doesn’t have to have any more information than what’s on the blotter. Police departments may volunteer more details — some, like South Windsor’s exemplary PD, do so routinely — but they don’t have to.

That means that police are not required to release mug shots, witness statements or documentary evidence, all of which give a more accurate picture of a criminal arrest — and clues as to whether the arrest was proper.

House Bill 6750 would require that all arrest records be open to the public unless they are exempted for reasons already covered by law — for example, if releasing records would be prejudicial to a case under prosecution.

Otherwise, police may hide arrest details they don’t want the public to see.

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant

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