On records, State Police all about delay

Agency routinely rejects requests, loses on appeal

THE MASSACHUSETTS STATE POLICE are not a big fan of transparency, as the agency’s policy on public records seems to be all about delay.

The State Police regularly redact documents or withhold them in their entirety from public view. The approach results in a voluminous amount of public records appeals being filed against the agency with the supervisor of public records in the secretary of state’s office.  Since 2014, records requesters have filed 288 appeals against the State Police, about half of them since 2017.

Of the last 50 completed appeals in which there were definitive rulings for one side or the other, the State Police lost all but one of them.  Fifteen of those appeals involved the failure of the agency to respond at all to the requests.

The one appeal that the State Police won involved a citizen in 2017 who sought records related to service calls made back in 1996.  The supervisor of public records ruled that the records had been properly discarded based on the state’s records retention schedule.

David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said the agency follows applicable laws in responding to public records requests. “Our analysis regarding what can be provided is applied consistently based on those applicable laws,” he said.

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, sees it differently. He called the agency “notoriously secretive” and added that “while it’s encouraging to see requesters winning on appeal, it’s disappointing that so many appeals need to be made in the first place.”

The exemptions the State Police typically claim in an effort to withhold or redact documents include the privacy exemption, which makes medical and personnel files off limits to public view; the deliberative process exemption, which shields records that deal with policy positions still in the process of being hammered out; and the investigatory exemption, which allows for the withholding of records that if disclosed might impair the ability of law enforcement officers to do their job.

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The nature of the records being sought from the State Police run the gamut from homicide records to expense records, from internal affairs reports to accident reports, from crime laboratory records to marijuana eradication records.

Public records appeals filed against the State Police come from a range of individuals, including ordinary citizens, journalists, lawyers, and even prisoners