Legislature Considers Rolling Back Court Decision on Police Disclosure
Lawmakers will hear public testimony Friday on a bill to reverse a 2014 state Supreme Court ruling, which limited the information police must release to the public before a criminal case is resolved.
In July, the court ruled in favor of the State Police and against the Freedom of Information Commission in its interpretation of existing law. The court said the law requires police to provide only cursory details about an arrest, such as the name of the person arrested, the charges, and where and when the arrest occurred. In addition, police can choose to release either a press release on the arrest or disclose some sort of report.
The court said the legislature should clarify the law.
“Given the continuing vigorous legislative debate on open government matters both in 1994 and today, we deem balancing the various interests and articulating a coherent policy on this matter to be a uniquely legislative function. The General Assembly retains the prerogative to modify or clarify [the law] as it sees fit,” Justice Richard A. Robinson wrote in the court’s unanimous decision.
The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee is taking another look at the issue through a bill that would reverse the decision by requiring police disclosure of all arrest records that don’t fall under a handful of longstanding exemptions.
The proposal will be one of more than a dozen bills discussed during a public hearing at 1 p.m. Friday.
James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said his group will speak in support of the bill. He said the legislation corrects a mistake made by the Supreme Court, which permits police to decline to release details such as the race of a suspect or the type of weapon used in a crime.
“There’s all kinds of things that they should release but now they have blanket coverage not to,” Smith said. “It has to be opened back up. People deserve to know how crime is investigated.”
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association is expected to testify against the bill, but a representative could not immediately be reached Thursday.
The committee will hear testimony on two other proposals related to the Freedom of Information Act Friday, including a bill to extend the term limits of some members of the Freedom of Information Commission and legislation barring the publication of certain information on voters.