Transparency is the first the step to justice. As our country debates the role of police in our communities, it’s important to remember that the public’s right to know about government is a prerequisite to accountability. Citizens must know how their law enforcement agencies operate in order to understand if they are working in the public’s interest.
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Among many other advocacy efforts, NEFAC is testifying in front of lawmakers about the need for transparency, providing webinars on police misconduct and public records, and highlighting the challenges faced by those seeking information about our law enforcement officers. While NEFAC has been the region’s leading advocate for police transparency since the coalition began in 2006, here is a look at our recent efforts in New England.
A conversation with Brad Petrishen of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette about the newspaper’s ongoing efforts to obtain Internal Affairs reports and other law enforcement records from the city’s police department.
A conversation with Derek Brouwer at Seven Days about an incident at Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans and the challenges of reporting on School Resource Officers (SROs) in Vermont.
A conversation with Jessie Rossman at the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts about a recent lawsuit against the Boston Police Department for records about use of force incidents and surveillance of citizens. According to the lawsuit, officials have regularly responded to the requests with silence and delay.
The New England First Amendment Coalition appeared before a New Hampshire state commission to recommend ways to increase transparency within law enforcement agencies. “The sunshine these efforts are headed for certainly show the good work that police officers do 99 percent of the time as well as weeding out the bad conduct,” said attorney Gregory V. Sullivan on behalf of the coalition, adding that “it’s not just the bad police officers that we can look at but their supervisors as well.”
NEFAC and National Freedom of Information of Coalition Discuss Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability
A conversation with Dan Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, about efforts across the country to increase transparency within local and state police departments. Dan also provides an update on the continuing challenges to open government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New England First Amendment Coalition sent a letter to Connecticut lawmakers recommending specific transparency requirements that should be included in recently proposed police accountability legislation. “With those in Connecticut now discussing how law enforcement can best be structured and overseen by the public, this is an opportune time to make meaningful changes to our police departments,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a July 17 letter to members of the state’s Judiciary Committee.
A conversation with Paul Cuno-Booth, reporter for the Keene Sentinel, about obtaining Use of Force policies from all law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire and how his public records requests led to two police chiefs reconsidering the use of chokeholds.
A conversation with Liam Elder-Connors, reporter for Vermont Public Radio, about a surprising public records response involving the state’s attorney general, efforts to expose police misconduct and an appearance on NPRmageddon.
“Especially now, police departments should be eager to get these policies in the hands of the public, so citizens will know their police officers are acting reasonably,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a transparency advocacy group.
A conversation with Tara O’Neill, breaking news reporter for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, about her coverage of the Bridgeport Police Department and the challenges journalists face while trying to report on law enforcement during recent protests and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New England First Amendment Coalition, Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and the New Hampshire Press Association presented this recorded webinar on June 26 about recent decisions expanding the public’s right to know about government. Attorneys Richard Gagliuso and Gregory V. Sullivan discuss two positive decisions issued by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire earlier this month that will make it easier for the public to oversee its law enforcement agencies and hold police officers accountable for their actions.
The New England First Amendment Coalition sent a letter to Vermont representatives demanding more transparency within law enforcement agencies and describing changes that could be made to improve public oversight. “During the last several weeks, the issue of police brutality has risen in our national conscience and there now seems to be the political appetite to make necessary reforms to law enforcement policy,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, to members of the state’s Senate Government Operations Committee on June 18.
A conversation with NEFAC’s Dan Barrett, legal director at the ACLU of Connecticut, about how access to law enforcement records can help us better hold police accountable for their actions and prevent future misconduct.
The New England First Amendment Coalition joined a coalition of transparency advocates across the country to publicize the need for more access to law enforcement records. “More public oversight leads to better policing, which leads to better public safety and stronger communities,” according to a June 12 statement by NEFAC and more than 50 organizations. “A small, but concrete, show of good faith would be for every state to enact reforms opening every aspect of the police misconduct oversight process to public scrutiny. Only by seeing the substance of each complaint, how it is resolved, and what consequences are imposed can the public trust that justice is being dispensed without favor,” the groups wrote.
It’s hard for the public to assess such claims when key parts of the relevant policy are kept hidden, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a transparency advocacy group. “It’s really difficult to know if police are acting reasonably when it comes to the use of force if we don’t know what their policies are,” he said.
“You know there’s an issue when the Massachusetts State Police is being more transparent than you,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman, whose organization defends and promotes public access to government, said internal affairs reports are crucial to the public’s understanding of whether officers who commit misconduct are being held accountable. “It’s all about the trust that we as citizens can have of our law enforcement, and without knowing of allegations of misconduct and how departments are responding, it’s very difficult to maintain that trust,” Silverman said. Silverman said departments withholding information is common – a dynamic that leaves people wondering about whether they are adequately policing themselves.
“You’re making the whole system more efficient and relieving some of the burden of public record requests from your own system,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman, whose organization defends and promotes public access to government, said he would expect Worcester, at a minimum, to be posting its arrest records online. “Worcester is a major city that we should expect these things from,” he said. “In fact, we should expect police logs to be posted online for every municipality.