Late Friday afternoon is a classic time to release controversial positions, so the Blogster isn’t surprised that a state representative who wants more exemptions from state Freedom of Information requirements, has issued his own recommendations. Rep. Angel Arce’s father was run over by a hit-and-run driver and died in Hartford. The driver was finally caught months after police released video of the hit and run. Here’s his release:
“State Representative Angel Arce (D-Hartford) co-chair of the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know, today presented members of the task force with proposed recommendations. The recommendations, based on months of task force discussions, were compiled by Rep. Arce in an effort to move the process forward.
“I put together these recommendations in an attempt to jump-start a productive conversation with members as we get closer to meeting our deadline,” Rep. Arce said. “Our debate has been respectful so far, but it is time for us to start considering substantive proposals. I am hopeful that we can find a reasonable and balanced approach to this emotional issue.”
The recommendations would exempt the audio 911 calls from disclosure unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure, but at the same time require public agencies to make available transcripts of any emergency 911 call upon request, and allow the individual who made the call to obtain a copy of the audio recording.
In order to confirm the contents of the transcript, the recommendations call for public agencies in the possession of such calls to allow in-person review of the audio portion of the call by any member of the public, and informing the caller 24 hours prior to the review.
“The Task Force heard from 911 callers from Sandy Hook who are terrified that their calls will be released, who said that they would think twice about ever calling 911 again,” Rep. Arce said. “I also know from personal experience that many members of my own community are afraid to call 911 because they are worried about the recording going public. We must make sure that people are not discouraged from calling 911.”
As it relates to crime scene images, an issue discussed in many forums relating to the Newtown tragedy, Rep. Arce’s recommendations suggest that the legislature should require photographs depicting homicide victims to be released only when a requestor has sufficient evidence to support possible negligence or improper performance by government officials.
“The risk that gruesome crime-scene photographs will be used to by anonymous Internet users to abuse families is real,” said Rep. Arce. The recommendations suggest permitting journalists and members of the public to review homicide photos in-person in order to determine whether disclosure is appropriate. “I believe it is possible to create a process that provides for public oversight of law enforcement agencies, and also protects the privacy and dignity of surviving family members,” said Rep. Arce.
Another highly contested issue is clarification of the exemption for the identity of child-witnesses. Arce recommends that the legislature require a public agency claiming such exemption for witnesses age 16 and 17 years of age to make a reasonable attempt to obtain consent from the witness or his guardian. “Child-witnesses are especially vulnerable members of our community, and we have a special duty to protect them,” said Rep. Arce.
“We have an outstanding group of task force members whom I am convinced will be able to turn these concepts into a meaningful dialogue that will take us to our ultimate task of presenting a report to the state legislature in January,” Rep. Arce said. “Most of us agree that, in the Internet era, the world is a much different place than it was nearly forty years ago when our state adopted the FOI law. I am certain that we have room for improvement.””