Editorial: Reopening Police Records Was Blow Against Secrecy – Hartford Courant

This was one legislative action taken in the dark of night that was welcome. At about 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, the final day of the 2015 session, the state Senate gave its unanimous consent to a compromise bill that restores much of the public access to police arrest records lost last year in a brutal state Supreme Court ruling.

It was an important — and one of the few — victories for the cause of freedom of information in Connecticut this year.

In the 2014 court decision, the justices severely limited the amount of information that police are required to disclose about arrests to so-called blotter information (name, address, the crime charged, etc.) and an incident report or a press release, neither of which has to say much.

Police would not have to disclose such vital information as footage from body cameras, for example.

The bill that passed early Wednesday morning was a response to the court.

As originally written, it would have required that all arrest records be open to the public unless they are exempted for reasons already covered by law, such as to protect the identity of witnesses. But the bill — HB 6750 — suffered a near-death experience in the judiciary committee only a month ago. The committee restored the court’s meager access requirements.

Much, but not all, of the public access to police records lost in the court decision was regained through negotiations between the office of Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane and the state Freedom of Information Commission.

Still, it was a red-letter day for advocates of open, accessible government. Advocates can try again next year to recapture the rest.

Disclosure of arrest records lets the public police the police, the most powerful of public agencies — an all-important attribute of a free society.

The state House also approved the compromise unanimously. The bill awaits Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature. He should sign it.