The General Assembly has approved a new contract that includes raises for state troopers, following arbitration. Unfortunately, it also undermines the principle of open government.
It is understandable that Connecticut state troopers want protections against the public release of information in their personnel files, at least in cases where there has been an investigation that found no wrongdoing by the officer involved.
“It's our obligation to our members to protect and defend their good reputations,” said Andrew Matthews, the state police union's executive director.
Fair enough. But advocates for government transparency worry that the language of the state troopers’ new contract, which has now been approved by both the House and Senate, could be interpreted in a way that would keep secret the results of misconduct investigations and discipline imposed on troopers.
Colleen Murphy, executive director of the state Freedom of Information Commission, told The Associated Press that to maintain public confidence state police should be required to release records of all misconduct investigations, whether or not the allegations were sustained.
It comes down to a question the Roman poet Juvenal asked, a very long time ago: “Who will guard the guards themselves?” While we believe that most police officers are honorable and conscientious, it seems to us that those employees whom the public entrusts with the power of arrest — even with the power of life and death — must be subject to adequate oversight.
Even in cases where a state trooper may be accused of a wrongful action, and then cleared, we agree with Murphy that “The public can see that process and feel good that someone was exonerated, or feel it wasn’t investigated properly.”
Wouldn’t that tend to increase the public’s confidence in, and respect for, their state troopers?
Another principle involved here is the question of whether the state can, or should, enter into a union contract that appears to exempt members of one union from a state law — in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, Connecticut’s landmark law promoting open government, which has been on the books since 1975.
“FOI, to me, should not be subject to collective bargaining,” Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, told the Journal Inquirer, of Manchester. “That’s a public policy issue.”
Weakening the Freedom of Information Act — which is what the General Assembly has done — does not serve the people of Connecticut well.