Task Force Takes First Steps Toward Compromise
A divided task force on public disclosure and victim privacy took a step toward compromise Wednesday with agreement on proposals allowing some police records to be inspected but not copied.
The group 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.
However, until Wednesday the divided panel — consisting of both open government and victim advocates — had yet to tackle the core issues of public access to crime scene photographs and video and audio recordings made by law enforcement agencies.
But the group made progress during a Wednesday meeting when task force members discussed a number proposals, including one by Klarn DePalma, vice president and general manager of WFSB. DePalma suggested limiting access to crime scene pictures and videos involving victims who are minors.
The proposal would create a central location where the public could view the records, but not copy them. The recommendation included a process for reporters or other members of the public to make a case for releasing certain protected records if they believe disclosure would serve the public interest.
It also includes a punishment. Anyone who removed or photographed protected records could be charged with a crime punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and a 20-year prison sentence.
“This is truly a huge compromise for my industry — a huge compromise. Because right now the public act takes away our ability to see any crime scene photos or listen to audio,” he said.
Klarn said the appeals process to make some records public was necessary for the proposal to work in his point of view.
“If we don’t have that, the whole world of open government goes away,” he said. “I can’t serve the public and hold people accountable if I can’t . . . see what happened at a crime scene.”
The idea seemed to have some appeal among members of the task force. Other sets of recommendations discussed Wednesday, like those proposed by co-chairman Rep. Angel Arce, also called for viewing records with a process to make them public if such disclosure would serve the public good.
Where the two sides seem likely to clash, however, is over just what law enforcement records would be subject to the process. DePalma’s proposal was narrowly written to capture only crime scene pictures and videos involving child victims.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said lawmakers considered including a similar process when they passed the law that created the task force. He said he liked the idea, but not quite as DePalma had written it.
“Just so it’s clear, when we talked about it at the legislature, it was all crimes — we didn’t differentiate between age,” Fasano said.
Rep. DebraLee Hovey, a Republican whose district includes part of Newtown, agreed. She said lawmakers wanted the law to protect all victims of homicide.
“That was very important to a number of people. With regards to Sandy Hook, the only victims were not just minors. There were adult victims also,” she said.
However, James Smith, a task force member and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said a compromise proposal should apply only to child victims.
“I think the word ‘minor’ is brilliant. If we’re looking for a compromise, the word ‘minor’ pulls us right back to Newtown,” he said. “I for one, am very worried about trying to sanitize crime in Connecticut . . . Some of these things we need to see. We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to hide them.”
Although the scope of the proposal may prove divisive, Don DeCesare, a general manager of a radio station who serves as one of the group’s two chairman, called Wednesday’ discussion “a huge leap” for the group.
The task force is charged with making recommendations to the legislature by January. They have one final meeting scheduled next month.