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Reject law, contract language that would invite secrecy

Should state lawmakers be passing laws that allow for secret arrests? Or that would protect from scrutiny decisions that clear state police of misconduct?

Our expectation is that most Connecticut residents would not agree with such proposals. Yet it appears the General Assembly is well on its way to approving them; with the best of intentions, of course.

This is how public access to information is taken away, not in any grand act to legitimize secrecy, but in small increments intended to protect some special group from transparency.

Unanimously approved by the Senate and awaiting action in the House is the proposed law reducing access to arrest information in domestic violence cases. The bill is intended to prohibit the release of the names of victims, which makes sense. But in cases of domestic violence, police are often unsure who assaulted who and make dual arrests. Under the proposed law, both individuals would be potential victims and neither name would be made public. In other words, secret arrests.

Police would also be prohibited from releasing “other identifying information” of “victims of family violence.” If the alleged domestic abuser shares the same last name and address as the victim, could police withhold the name of the abuser to protect a child's or spouse’s identity? Perhaps.

And what if local police went to the home of a city official, or fellow officer, on a domestic violence call? A dual arrest would keep everyone’s name out of the blotter. How convenient.

Go ahead and protect victims’ identities, but in allowing the names of the arrested to remain secret, this bill goes too far. Amend it.

Also pending in the House and Senate is ratification of the proposed new contract with the State Police. In addition to a 6.5 percent pay increase over three years, the contract would exempt from disclosure internal affairs documents unless misconduct were substantiated. Such records are now available under the Freedom of Information Act.

This means the press and public would have no way of knowing how the internal investigation came to its conclusion and whether it was a serious review or a whitewash. This is a step sure to erode public confidence in the conclusions.

The language should be removed from the contract and the legislature should pass a law prohibiting future state contracts from superseding the FOI law.

 

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 Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman 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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