Thursday, June 11, 2009

Editorial: Keep Arrest Records Open

There has been a quiet effort by some in the law-enforcement community this year to weaken Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act as it pertains to official police narrative reports of arrests.

If such a pushback occurs, the public won’t be able to learn crucial information about how the police do their jobs and how parts of the state criminal code are being applied. Police activities are, after all, part of government and the public deserves to know what its government is doing. And it is particularly important for the public to have oversight of police, who are given power to use deadly force and deprive citizens of liberty (at least temporarily).

One dubious “improvement” this year would amend the law regarding the public’s right to read the narrative of arrests of adults. (Records of arrests involving minors are treated a bit differently, which is appropriate.) A Senate bill says that “specific language contained within these documents may be exempt as set forth in this chapter.” This effort to limit information has extended to allowing the removal of information about the locations of arrests and delaying the release of the names of officers involved.

At the very least, such a pushback could badly delay access to this public information. At worst, it could indefinitely prevent it from being made public.

Legislators should resist this.

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