Lawmaker Pre-empts Task Force To Make His Own Recommendations
A lawmaker who chairs a panel weighing victim privacy against public disclosure law made his own recommendations Friday, including a proposal restricting public access to audio of the of 911 calls.
The task force was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. But the split panel has had difficulty reaching consensus on any issue.
Rep. Angel Arce, one of two chairmen on the task force, has been a vocal advocate of reducing access to law enforcement records in an effort to protect the privacy of victims. Arce’s father died after a hit-and-run accident in Hartford. Although the perpetrator was caught after Hartford police released video footage of the incident, Arce said his family has been traumatized from seeing the video broadcast on television.
Arce’s recommendations come as the task force nears its January deadline without consensus on any of the controversial issues it has been asked to consider. In a statement, he said his recommendations are “an attempt to jump-start a productive conversation.”
Among the recommendations is a proposal for restricting access to recordings of 911 calls to written transcripts unless there is “an overriding public interest in disclosure.” Arce’s proposal would permit a member of the public to listen to the calls in person. In the event that 911 tapes are ordered released based on evidence of negligence by a government official, Arce’s proposal calls for at least 24 hours notice to the person who made the call.
“Most of us agree that, in the Internet era, the world is a much different place than it was nearly 40 years ago when our state adopted the FOI law. I am certain that we have room for improvement,” Arce said in a statement.
Not everyone on the task force agrees. James Smith, a task force member and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, has suggested that the group’s membership is weighted too heavily in favor of reducing public access to information.
Smith said the state should be proud of its public disclosure law and dismissed the notion that it should be curbed based on the pervasiveness of the Internet.
“I say we should not let technical advances, and we will always have them, erode our basic freedoms and the concept of knowing what the government is doing,” he said in an email.
The task force, which has yet to reach a consensus on any recommendation, will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Room 1C of the Legislative Office Building.