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    Local Columns
    Sunday, August 14, 2022

    Stonington vs. New London: Good cops, bad cops for body camera disclosure

    I don't know what the rank-and-file police officers in Stonington and New London think about the requirement that they wear body cameras, the result of a law that grew out of the summer of Black Lives Matter protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

    I suspect most of them welcome the attempt at transparency.

    But I do know that the administrators of the two departments could not be more different in the way they are complying with the new law and treating the public and its right to review the footage from those cameras.

    Stonington police this week announced their body cameras are up and running and the department has assigned a staff person to manage the footage and process Freedom of Information Act requests. The only fee will be the cost of the CD the requested material is provided on.

    "The benefit of this is the transparency. It sheds a very clear light so we can see what happened good or bad," Stonington police Capt. Todd Olson told The Day. "It will also clarify questions someone from the public may have."

    "We want to be transparent when something happens," he said. "We will work as quickly as we can to provide them to the public."

    Compare that with the obstruction in New London, where my 5-month-old request for body camera footage has been treated with disdain and stonewalling.

    Indeed, the city has suggested that the fees for a police lieutenant to review the footage I requested from New Year's Eve patrols could run into the thousands of dollars. The city insists on charging even though the public education officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission has told the city the law doesn't allow for the collection of the fees it wants to impose.

    And so the city is fighting for the right to impose the fees in what is sure to be a lengthy and costly case before the commission.

    The head of the New London police union, Joshua Bergeson, delivered a public complaint about my "vague request" for the body camera footage in an op-ed The Day published last month.

    Bergeson was wrong when he said that I "refused to narrow down the search of the video." In fact, city Law Director Jeffrey Londregan wrote to me, after I suggested reducing the number of officers and cameras in the request, saying: "The city is inclined to just have all the video completed rather than choose certain officers to be completed."

    Mayor Michael Passero was copied on all my emails with the law director about the excessive fees being charged but declined my requests for him to comment.

    The city is apparently incurring a lot of legal fees in its fight for disclosure of other things the public has a right to see, besides body camera footage.

    The city is fighting before the FOI Commission to keep secret the location of video cameras it is installing around the city, some in neighborhoods where a majority of residents are people of color.

    Police can watch you secretly but are resisting the legal mandate to allow the public to see what they are doing.

    I would welcome some more Black Lives Matter protests in New London. Apparently no one in charge there got the message.

    The city is also expensively fighting, in another case before the commission, disclosure of the full report into a sexual harassment and hostile workplace complaint against police Chief Brian Wright by a male officer. The complaint led to six weeks of paid administrative leave for the chief, but the public never learned exactly what was investigated or the details of how the chief was finally exonerated.

    Take our word for it. Everything is fine, city officials said, paternalistically patting the public on the head.

    The resistance by New London, a city with a large population of people of color, to comply with the police transparency envisioned in a body camera law that grew out of a summer of Black Lives Matter protests is alarming.

    And the obstinance of city leaders about it is all the more obvious when you compare it with the professionalism and transparency on the issue on full display in Stonington.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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