Proposed Bill Would Hide Internal Police Investigations from Public
Update: Tuesday, 3:53 p.m.
State Rep. Nick Collins said in a statement to Boston magazine:
This bill is a starting point for a much-needed conversation about balancing the public’s right to obtain information with the importance of protecting the integrity of ongoing criminal investigations. The bill is not intended to prevent the release of information about an officer’s conduct after an investigation is complete and a finding has been made. I look forward to hearing from both sides to determine the best way to move forward on this important issue.
The public records law in Massachusetts is fundamentally broken. Virtually unchanged in 40 years, the law provides public agencies vast tracts of gray area to operate within. When these public agencies use astronomical fees and Strom Thurmondesque filibustering to discourage citizens and press from obtaining information on their own government, recourse is awfully tough to come by. State Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton has led the charge to mend our toothless public records law, with a final draft of his bill coming soon.
State Rep. Nick Collins of Boston, on the other hand, gazed upon our sputtering system and thought, “You know what this could use? Less transparency.”
(c) personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
including material related to any review of conduct of police officers which could result in disciplinary action.
Collins—who has received a combined $3,100 in campaign contributions from the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and Superior Officers Federation in the last five years, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance filings—wishes to keep internal investigations into police brutality and other misconduct hidden from the public eye. Any sort of obfuscation when it comes to police operations is bad. But when police departments are facing unprecedented scrutiny and media coverage with regard to their interactions with minority communities, what Collins has proposed is remarkably tone-deaf—especially given that he represents one of the most racially segregated cities in America, worse than Birmingham, Alabama, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Collins—who in the last five years has received $1,425 in campaign contributions from folks who listed their occupation as “police officer” in OCPF filings—argues that having internal investigations into illegal conduct open to taxpayers could jeopardize the credibility of an officer, whose salary is paid by taxpayers, in the future. “They can be discredited during that process when information is being sought about their personnel files while a case is ongoing,” he told Janet Wu of WCVB.
Well, yeah. That’s the point, Representative.
Just a few short months ago, the Golden Padlock Award-winning Massachusetts State Police tried charging the Globe $62,220 for records of crashes involving police cruisers, while slapping a Bay State Examiner reporter with a $710.50 “non-refundable research fee” for an estimate of another fee to obtain copies of internal affairs reports. Kocot and likeminded lawmakers wish to break down these ridiculous barriers to information, and Collins—who has received $1,200 in campaign contributions from state troopers since 2012, according to OCPF filings—wants to build the wall a little higher.
Collins’ bill isn’t expected to go to the House floor for a vote until next year—that is, if it isn’t laughed out of Beacon Hill first.