Massachusetts State Representative Nick Collins has introduced a bill on Beacon Hill designed to erect further barriers to the public access of information. His legislation proposes to shield “material related to any review of conduct of police officers which could result in disciplinary action” from public records requests. This means anyone who wants to access records about internal police investigations, including those into police brutality and other misconduct, will be unable to do so.
The Representative says his “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.” However, there is nothing in the actual language of his proposal that makes this true. Rather, the proposal would permanently exempt information about police conduct from public view and would significantly add to police secrecy and lack of accountability.
The timing of the bill couldn’t be worse. It comes when transparency in law enforcement is now more important than ever. The #BlackLivesMatter movement and the ongoing debate about police militarization and misconduct demand measures that expand transparency, build trust, and ensure accountability. Rep. Collin’s legislation does the exact opposite.
The Massachusetts State Police also already won the 2015 Golden Padlock Award for being the most secretive public agency in the entire United States, beating out even the Department of Defense! They have a history of charging prohibitively expensive fees for accessing public documents and delaying their responses to records requests to the point of obfuscation.
In light of these realities, how can anyone justify letting them be even more secretive?
What we need is real public records reform. We need to ensure that all those with a need – and right – to know what their officials are doing can find out. That is the only way to build trust and accountability between both citizens and police, as well as citizens and government in general. There is another bill on Beacon Hill that could provide this reform, but it is facing opposition determined to water our proposals down and prevent sunlight from shining on Massachusetts government. We can’t allow that to happen any more than we can let law enforcement get even less transparent.