While Connecticut is inching toward equipping police officers with body cameras and cruisers with dashboard cameras, they won't bring much accountability to police work unless the state's freedom-of-information law is strengthened. For if police video in Connecticut ever captured a murder committed by an officer -- like the killings recently committed by officers in South Carolina and Oklahoma and captured on video that was quickly made public -- the video almost certainly would be suppressed.
In part that's because of the exemption inserted in Connecticut's FOI law last year by the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel Malloy in response to fears that someone might publish photographs of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown in December 2012. The exemption lets government agencies to withhold images of murder victims if the "personal privacy of the victim or the victim's surviving family members" might be invaded.
If that exemption wasn't enough pretext for the police to withhold the video, they surely would withhold it under a second and longstanding exemption in the law, allowing the suppression of "information to be used in a prospective law-enforcement action if prejudicial to such action."
Never mind that murder, assault, and brutality committed by police officers can never be matters of "personal privacy," nor that the only prejudice to a law-enforcement action in such circumstances would be in withholding evidence of a crime, not in making it public.
No, the chief state's attorney, the local state's attorney, and the chief of the department whose officer had been caught in misconduct all probably would insist on preventing the public from getting a quick look at any incriminating video, lest the ability of the police to conceal or minimize a crime by an officer be impaired.
Indeed, Connecticut's prosecutors are notorious for their refusal to prosecute official corruption, almost always defaulting to federal prosecutors, who can handle only the biggest offenses. State prosecutors claim that they are handicapped in pursuing official misconduct by their lack of the power to issue investigative subpoenas. But even when serious misconduct by police was documented for them by civilian video in East Haven in 2009 and Bridgeport in 2011, state prosecutors failed to act and left prosecution to the feds, who won convictions.
In light of the explosion of videos documenting police misconduct around the country, Connecticut's FOI law should be amended to require immediate disclosure of any images involving death, injury, or property damage captured by police or other government agencies.
While Governor Malloy and the General Assembly seem content to leave police body cameras to a small experimental program, at least two Connecticut towns are hurrying toward greater accountability in police work as well as toward greater protection for officers against the many false accusations made against police -- South Windsor and Norwalk. If only other police departments had as much integrity.
State government in Connecticut can't take proper care of the mentally disabled and ill and addicted. Its finances are deteriorating despite -- or maybe because of -- a record tax increase. The state's transportation system needs tens of billions of dollars in renovations and improvements for which money can't be found. Government policies undertaken to remediate poverty only produce more poverty requiring remediation. Most of the state's high school graduates have failed to master high school work and many are duly sent off to take remedial courses in public colleges.
But last week Governor Malloy announced that he will appoint a committee to address climate change. He seems to think state government is a spectacular success and doesn't have enough to do.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.