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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently opposed legislation that would make secret the towns and cities of residence for Rhode Island police officers.
“At a time when citizens throughout the state — and country — are demanding more transparency and accountability within police departments, this legislation will needlessly keep citizens uninformed about the officers patrolling their streets,” wrote NEFAC and the Rhode Island Press Association in a May 17 letter to the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee.
The groups explained that Senate Bill 671 should be rejected for three main reasons:
APRA Already Protects Police Officer Privacy | The Access to Public Records Act currently limits the disclosure of public employee personnel information. The street addresses of police officers are exempt from the statute. Allowing only the city or town of residence to be disclosed — as has been the case for many years — does not pose a significant risk to law enforcement officers.
Senate Bill 671 Would Make Troubling Precedent | Senate Bill 671 not only needlessly erodes the public’s right to know about government, but it creates a slippery slope that will lead to more secrecy. The misguided rationale for limiting access to the cities and towns of police officers could ultimately result in similar APRA exemptions for other public employees — even those with less privacy expectations and safety concerns.
Police Transparency and Accountability Will Suffer | With law enforcement practices receiving renewed scrutiny throughout the country, information about where officers live can lead to a better understanding of community policing. Do officers engage in more or less misconduct, for example, when working in a community they also call home? Questions such as this one will not be answered given the secrecy proposed by Senate Bill 671.
“Police officers are the frontline protectors of our communities,” NEFAC and RIPA wrote. “Given the valuable role of police departments — and the tremendous power they wield — their policies and practices are of great public interest. Citizens and the press need the ability to oversee and understand how these departments work.”
NEFAC is the leading advocate for First Amendment freedoms and open government in New England. It fights to protect press rights and promote transparency throughout the six-state region. Learn more about how the coalition is helping to keep police officers accountable.
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, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.