Every recent legislative session in Connecticut has brought another challenge to open information that is both meaningful and dangerous for those who care about governmental accountability. This time, one of those is the need to reverse the state Supreme Court decision in 2014 that changed the amount of information that police must make public. That decision made it necessary only for police to share, about any incident, the arrest report, the incident report, the news release or some similar document. It is up to the cops to decide the amount of detail to include.
How would the police decide that? There are different ways to look at the functioning of government. One way is to suppose that everything done by those in authority is in the open and can only be kept secret if they can prove some overriding reason why that should happen. Another is to assume that actions taken by the government are done in secret, and will only be made public if engaged citizens make the case convincingly as to why that should occur.
Since 1975, when its Freedom of Information Act became law by unanimous vote of the Legislature, Connecticut has been a place where the actions of those in government have been considered as public actions. Do the citizens of Connecticut mind giving their public servants the opportunity to conceal some of the actions taken in their name? It seems likely we can all agree this is a time when privacy concerns are very real, and defensible, with too much personal information arguably available to too many people who should mind their own business a bit more. Yet when, for instance, police are conducting their business at a crime scene, should the 911 calls associated with it and the photographs taken there be difficult or impossible to access, as happened at the time of the Newtown Sandy Hook massacre? Is this the direction we want to take?
If so, while it could be seen that the rights of crime victims are being protected, such a policy could also provide perpetrators and those investigating an incident with tools to hide their own actions.
There needs to be a balance, which is hard to find, and many dedicated and intelligent people have been trying to find it since the end of the last Legislative session and since the state Supreme Court decision. Now is the time for the legislators to fix the damage done by the Court. There is a bill in the current Legislature, which should become law, House Bill 6750, that will amend what was set by the decision written by Justice Richard Robinson. The Court noted then that it was the Legislature’s responsibility to take on the effects of its decision if legislators thought it necessary. The House bill addresses the decision’s repercussions and should be passed.
Now is the time to let our representatives in Hartford know if you care about open information relating to police actions. Those representatives have offices that are open to their constituents, and they should always be willing to hear from them.