Advocates urge more access to police records as legislature considers bill

The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee held a public hearing Friday on H.B. 6570, which would restore public access to police records to its level prior to the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Commissioner of Public v. Freedom of Information Commission.
That ruling requires police departments to only make available to the public booking information and one other item, be it an arrest report, incident summary, or basic press release, while an investigation remains pending. HB 6750, though, would make all documents available with the exception of specific exemptions.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane testified that the additional information required under the proposed bill could potentially harm witnesses or victims, hamper police investigation, and even disgrace defendants who are later found not guilty. That Connecticut Police Chief’s Association raised similar concerns in its testimony. Kane said the State’s Attorney’s Office is currently working on a blanket policy for state, and even local police, and urged legislators to wait for it before deciding if more steps are necessary.
But FOIC Executive Director Colleen Murphy said the state’s FOI statutes and the commission’s interpretation granted exemptions for police when the release of information posed an actual harm. She said the burden was placed on police to claim the exemption, but the FOIC rarely questioned police when basic proof was provided. She also said that legislation would be much strong that policy, which police could change whenever they wanted.
Others, including CT SPJ, the Connecticut Council on FOI, and the CT ACLU, testified that access to this information is crucial for those who wish to hold police departments accountable. They also said that waiting for a case to resolve could take years, at which point the information may not longer be relevant to public discussion or concerns.

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