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FOI backsliding in NL

It is troubling to see the New London Police Community Relations Committee once again trying to haul behind closed doors their discussions into the adequacy of the police department's handling of civilian complaints.

When citizens feel an officer of the New London Police Department has treated them unfairly they can file a civilian complaint with the department. The department then conducts an internal investigation. If misconduct by an officer is found, discipline is handled internally. Ultimately the department releases a final report with the findings of the internal investigation and the facts on which it based those findings.

This is a public document. Those filing the complaints, or anyone else, can get a copy.

These reports are reviewed by the community relations committee, which has no authority to change the findings, or reopen the investigation, but only to evaluate whether the department adequately and fairly reviewed the complaint.

For years the committee held these meetings in executive (closed) session because they were "personnel matters," even though the Freedom of Information Act has no provision for closing meetings for "personnel matters." The act does allow keeping private records "which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy." These civilian complaints involve the actions of police officers in their public duties. And the community relations committee is reviewing not the performance of the officers, but a public report into the department's handling of the complaints.

The closed-door practice ended in 2010 when this newspaper and others exposed the illegality of such meetings and the city attorney concluded they should be open. But long-time committee chairman Wayne Vendetto, after a couple of years out of the big chair, is back as chairman and the committee is again making the discussions private.

The police union welcomes the backsliding. These discussions can at times be embarrassing for officers, but that is no justification for ignoring the open government law.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio quickly weighed in.

"I completely disagree with that action. I believe these meetings and hearings need to be held in public. That is the whole purpose of the very existence of this committee and the civilian complaint process and I hope that the decision is quickly reversed and that proceedings are open to the public," he said.

The mayor needs to follow through and keep up the pressure. Groups, such as the local chapter of the NAACP, which have called for transparency in the handling of civilian complaints should also take notice.

Keep the meetings open.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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