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The New England First Amendment Coalition joined a coalition of transparency advocates across the country today to publicize the need for more access to law enforcement records.
“More public oversight leads to better policing, which leads to better public safety and stronger communities,” according to a June 12 statement by NEFAC and more than 50 organizations.
“A small, but concrete, show of good faith would be for every state to enact reforms opening every aspect of the police misconduct oversight process to public scrutiny. Only by seeing the substance of each complaint, how it is resolved, and what consequences are imposed can the public trust that justice is being dispensed without favor,” the groups wrote.
The statement — drafted by the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information — follows the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Since Floyd’s death, protests erupted across the country along with calls for states to enact police reform.
“‘Business as usual’ in the oversight of law enforcement is not a satisfactory response to urgent and well-founded concerns that police officers are able to avoid consequences for wrongdoing, abetted by a tight regime of official secrecy,” the groups wrote. “Change must happen.”
The officer charged in the death of Floyd had 18 prior complaints filed against him with internal affairs. Another officer on the scene had six complaints, one of which was still open at the time.
A 2015 study found that disciplinary records are considered public in only 12 states. Even with public record access, many of these states still make records of unsubstantiated complaints or active investigations confidential. Only 17 states grant limited access, which includes only allowing access to severe discipline, such as suspension or termination. (Since the study, California and Colorado have passed laws that allow limited access to their records.) In 21 states, police records are confidential to the public. Some of these states currently have laws in place which specifically make law enforcement officers’ personnel records confidential.
The June 12 statment is NEFAC’s most recent effort to combat secrecy within law enforcement agencies.
Most recently, NEFAC featured Dan Barrett, a coalition board member and legal director at the ACLU of Connecticut, in a video about transparency’s role in policing the police. You can view that interview here and share a slideshow summarizing Barrett’s remarks on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
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.
Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.