NEFAC Calls for More Access to Complaints Against Police in Rhode Island

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently testified in support of a Rhode Island bill that would make police internal affairs reports public regardless of how the investigation was initiated.

Due to a 2017 decision by the Office of the Attorney General, complaints against law enforcement agencies initiated internally are typically kept secret while complaints made by the public are disclosed. H 6602 would remove this distinction.

“Without transparency about internal affairs complaints, the public will not know whether law enforcement agencies are able to police their own effectively,” according to the Jan. 25 testimony of John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island on behalf of NEFAC and other open government advocates. “From the standpoint of accountability for alleged misconduct, how can the origin of a complaint matter?”

The 2017 case — Piskunov v. Town of Narragansett — involved a request under the Access to Public Records Act for internal affairs reports from the town’s police department. The Office of the Attorney General found that citizen-initiated complaints are more likely to further the public interest than other kinds of internal affairs reports.

H 6602, however, would require that both types of complaints are considered the same under APRA and subject to disclosure. The bill reads:

Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, any reports of investigations conducted by internal affair units or their equivalent, regardless of how or by whom the investigation was initiated, shall be public records; provided, however, names, addresses and other personal identifiers may be redacted from the reports to the extent their disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

“We believe that the public interest is paramount with respect to how law enforcement investigate complaints, regardless of their origin,” according to NEFAC’s testimony. “From the standpoint of accountability for alleged misconduct, how can the origin of a complaint matter?”

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition regularly testifies in matters involving First Amendment freedoms and government transparency. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry and Connecticut Public.