NEFAC Concerned About Criminal Record Access, Mass. Decisions to Allow Withholding of Arrest Info

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

The New England First Amendment Coalition is greatly concerned about the consequences of recent rulings that allow many documents related to criminal charges to be exempt under Massachusetts public records law.

As reported today by Todd Wallack in The Boston Globe and confirmed by NEFAC, the secretary of state’s office said regulations that limit public access to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information database (CORI) give law officials broad power to determine which criminal records can be made public.

These rulings, according to the article, give “individual police chiefs and other officials the power to decide what to release or keep secret — even when the information relates to wrongdoing in their own departments.” The rulings, in part, allowed Boston police to withhold the names of officers caught drunken driving and state police to withhold the arrest report of one of its officers.

“This is information that should be public, particularly when it involves a police officer,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “Our public records law exists so citizens can better monitor their government, including their law enforcement. Decisions about releasing records shouldn’t be made solely by those who have a strong interest in withholding those records.”

NEFAC began in 2006 to help strengthen freedom of information laws in each state throughout the region. The coalition is working with several other Massachusetts open-government proponents to advocate for a stronger public records law in the Commonwealth.

The current Massachusetts law is widely considered one of the weakest in the nation and already allows police departments to withhold certain documents related to ongoing investigations. Adding to the challenge of obtaining criminal records is a law passed last year that prohibits the release of the names of those arrested for domestic violence-related offenses.

“We want to make sure that citizens in Massachusetts are informed about their government and have the tools to keep their leaders accountable,” Silverman said. “The public has a right to know who is arrested in their community and under what charges. It is especially vital to know when the person arrested is a member of our law enforcement. It’s a matter of public trust.”

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.