Monday, November 16, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: Police Want Public Records Kept Private

Not only is it hypocrisy as the push is on to collect all your data, it's a sign of fascism from your free and transparent government that serves to protect you.

"State Police take issue with tougher records law; Other interest groups also weigh in, threatening momentum for reform" by Todd Wallack Globe Staff  November 07, 2015

State Police have objected to a proposal to strengthen Massachusetts public records laws in meetings on Beacon Hill, the latest sign of government resistance to a measure designed to make documents more readily available to the public.

This in allegedly liberal Massachusetts.

State Police Colonel Richard D. McKeon and a State Police lieutenant “expressed a number of concerns about the bill” in two meetings with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo over the last four months, according to Seth Gitell, a DeLeo spokesman.

Neither the State Police nor Gitell would provide details about the objections, but the force has repeatedly clashed with journalists over its refusal to release some documents, such as information about troopers charged with operating under the influence.

And State Police routinely block other requests, even asking one attorney to pay $2.7 million for access to breath test results that were available for free in some other states.

More than 40 advocacy groups and about a quarter of the state’s lawmakers have backed legislation to strengthen the law, widely considered to be one of the weakest in the country.

But open-government advocates say the future of the measure is uncertain because of opposition from government officials and their representatives, including the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association.

How dare they ever criticize anyone for anything?

“There remains a strong and vocal group of legislators who are being pressured by their local officials to gut the bill,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, part of the coalition backing the legislation.

State Police spokesman David Procopio defended the way the agency handles public records requests, which he said put a considerable burden on the police. He said the agency receives roughly 1,000 requests a year, sometimes involving complex issues and voluminous documents.

Maybe if they spent less on SWAT teams kicking down doors.

“An immense amount of work is required by a very small legal staff to complete the requests,” he said. However, he added, “whatever changes are passed, if any, we will comply with them.”


Massachusetts is the only state in the country in which the governor’s office, Legislature, and judiciary all claim to be exempt from the public records law.

Time to dispense with the idea of Massachusetts exceptionalism once and for all. How sickening.

Agencies that are covered by the law routinely deny requests, take months to respond, or demand huge fees to see public records, partly because there are no significant penalties for ignoring the law. The attorney general’s office can’t recall ever prosecuting anyone for violating the records statute.

That, my friends, is fascism. The state and party above the law and people. 

What would happen if you ignored the law, citizen?

Many lawmakers and government watchdog groups have been pushing a bill filed by state Representative Peter Kocot, a Northampton Democrat, that would give the law more teeth. It would allow citizens for the first time to recover attorneys’ fees if a court rules that a document has been improperly withheld.

Kocot’s bill would also reduce the fees agencies can charge for records, and would make other changes designed to make it easier to obtain public records, such as requiring agencies to publicly designate someone to handle records requests.

But after initially winning approval from the state administration committee in July, Kocot’s bill has been stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee for months.

Lawmakers have been trying to broker a compromise behind the scenes. But the municipal association objected to virtually every aspect of the bill in an e-mail it sent to members last summer, including provisions intended to give officials more time to respond to requests and limit the fees they can charge for documents.

What do you have to hide when other states are complying, no problem?

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the group, said it has suggested changes to the bill that would make it more reasonable and affordable for local officials to implement.

“Updating the public records act is something that makes sense given how old the statute is, yet it is very important to make sure anything that passes does not impose an unfunded mandate or overly heavy administrative burden on cities and towns,” he said.

Where has all the money gone? Who has stolen it all? 

Btw, the records he is talking about? YOU PAID FOR THEM, taxpayers! They are SUPPOSED TO BE YOURS!

Beckwith said he didn’t have any way to estimate the cost of complying with the proposed legislation, but officials in some other states with stronger public records laws said they did not find providing documents to be overly burdensome. 

Beckwith talking bullish**!!!!!!!!!!

Despite the emerging opposition, both the Senate president and House speaker have said they hope to pass a bill overhauling the public records law this session, while Governor Charlie Baker has said he agrees the law should be improved.

Already, Baker has asked his administration to follow new internal policies to better track requests and limit fees for records.

State Police first raised their objections to DeLeo at a July 21 meeting that included Lieutenant Ken Halloran, who helps handle government relations for the force, according to DeLeo’s office. The second meeting on Sept. 11 included both Halloran and McKeon, who Baker recently appointed to run the agency.

Procopio, the police spokesman, didn’t dispute assertions that the force raised concerns about the bill at the meetings, but he said it would be misleading to call that lobbying against the bill.

“That implies a coordinated and directed effort against the legislation, which is not the case,” Procopio said. “Neither meeting was scheduled or held with the sole or primary intention of discussing the public records law or bill.”

However, the State Police have been criticized on grounds of trying to thwart records requests. The department recently won the uncoveted Golden Padlock award from a national journalists’ group, Investigative Reporters and Editors, for its alleged commitment to secrecy.

The Globe is also suing the State Police over two sets of documents.

In May, the newspaper sued several law enforcement agencies, including the State Police, after they refused to release reports and mugshots of troopers accused of drunken driving.

And last Friday, the Globe filed a second lawsuit against State Police in Suffolk Superior Court after the department refused to provide dates of birth for state troopers.

The Globe wanted the information to check the driving histories of officers who had been involved in serious crashes or accused of drunken driving. But because many people share the same first and last names, the Registry of Motor Vehicles typically requires both a name and a date of birth or home address to check someone’s driving record.

“Massachusetts has one of the weakest laws in the country, particularly when it comes to enforcement,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts.

Wilmot said she is hopeful the Legislature will overhaul the law this session, but she is disheartened by the State Police’s objections. “They are the worst agency I know of in Massachusetts, and one of the worst in the country” in responding to records requests, Wilmot said. “For them to try to lobby against reform is disappointing.”


Also see:

editorial The time for meaningful public records reform is now

Mass. among the worst in US for public records access An ‘F’ for state on open records