Local journalist Todd Wallack, who recently authored a Boston Globe investigation about how Massachusetts police try to shield their colleagues from accountability for drunk driving, said yesterday that the Massachusetts State Police refused to turn over photographs of state troopers who have been arrested for drunk driving in response to a public records request. The State Police apparently claimed that doing so "would create a risk to public safety."
— Todd Wallack (@TWallack) December 17, 2014
As Wallack pointed out, this is an absurd claim to make because the State Police routinely publish pictures of state troopers online. Indeed, the State Police publish photos on their blog, their Facebook page, and their Twitter account.
For instance, here's a recent picture of state troopers with Santa that I got from the State Police's Facebook page:
Does the world suddenly feel like a less safe place to you? I didn't think so.
The public safety exemption to the public records law reads as follows:
(n) records, including, but not limited to, blueprints, plans, policies, procedures and schematic drawings, which relate to internal layout and structural elements, security measures, emergency preparedness, threat or vulnerability assessments, or any other records relating to the security or safety of persons or buildings, structures, facilities, utilities, transportation or other infrastructure located within the commonwealth, the disclosure of which, in the reasonable judgment of the record custodian, subject to review by the supervisor of public records under subsection (b) of section 10 of chapter 66, is likely to jeopardize public safety.
The exemption lists a number of specific types of records, none of which include photographs of employees, however, it says it's "not limited to" these types of records. That said, it's impossible to see how State Police can reconcile their willingness to share pictures of state troopers posing with Santa with their unwillingness to share pictures of state troopers who have been arrested for alleged crimes.
This strikes me as a blatant case of police abusing a vague exemption to the public records law to shield their colleagues from public scrutiny. If anything, releasing these photos will enhance public safety by helping to remind the public that there are legal consequences for drunk driving, even for police officers.
Wallack said he intends to fight the State Police's decision by filing an administrative appeal with the Supervisor of Records.