ACLU Calls for Change to Open Records Law in Response to Death of South Kingstown Man
Posted: Feb, 12, 2004
The ACLU said today it will ask state legislators to amend the open records law to require police departments to release arrest reports within 48 hours of a request for the information. The call follows the death of South Kingstown resident Bruce Chappell on Tuesday after being arrested by North Kingstown police. Police officials have refused to release copies of the report of his arrest, citing a provision in the open records law giving public agencies up to ten days to respond to requests for public information.
ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “The public has a compelling interest in learning the circumstances surrounding this arrest, and in promptly learning the circumstances surrounding any arrest. There is no reason for police to withhold the release of arrest reports for 10 days other than to unnecessarily and inappropriately keep the public in the dark.”
Brown noted that the reasoning underlying the 10-day response rule in the open records law was to give agencies time to determine whether a requested record was exempt from disclosure under the law, and to protect agencies from having to immediately halt work in order to respond to numerous or voluminous requests for information.
However, Brown said, “neither of these rationales carries any weight in the context of arrest reports. First, the open records law explicitly declares that arrest reports are public records, so agencies need no time to decide whether the information is releasable. Secondly, police reports are only a few pages long and readily accessible to the custodians of the records, so the burden on police departments is negligible in promptly providing these documents when requested. In fact, arrest reports are precisely the sort of documents that should be readily available to the public in a free society. We should not have to wait 10 days to learn how and why somebody has been detained by the police or, as in this instance, how and why an arrest may have led to a man’s death.
“Giving police 48 hours to release arrest reports is more than ample time to respond to requests, and the only way of assuring that the public’s right to know is protected. I am hopeful that the General Assembly will look favorably upon such an amendment to the law.”