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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Survey Grades Westport Police ‘F’ on FOI Compliance

UPDATE (adds Westport police comment, YouTube video link) A check of police departments across the state on compliance with the Freedom of Information Act gave Westport an F grade, the New Haven Register reported today.

It said staff at the New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen carried out the survey.

On Thursday, Westport police responded to the survey, saying an investigation determined a reporter showed up at a busy time. “It appears that our emergency dispatchers were approached by someone during a busy time asking for an arrest log,” said Capt. John A. Calka in a letter to WestportNow. “Our dispatcher told them to wait until they could clear the emergency calls. The requester did not wait.”

The three newspapers tested all 92 municipal police departments across Connecticut and 11 state police troops on their compliance with the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the report said

“At the South Windsor and West Hartford departments, reporters were promptly given access to an arrest log and an in-depth arrest report, without question about our identity,” the report said.

“In contrast, Branford, Middlebury, New Haven, state police Troop G in Bridgeport, West Haven and Westport garnered an F for a Sunshine Grade for failing to provide even basic information on arrests as required by state FOI law.”

The newspaper quoted Westport Police Chief Dale Call as saying his reaction is “one of great disappointment.”

“We train our records staff, both civilian and sworn, in (the Freedom of Information Act), so there is absolutely no excuse if your reporter spoke to any of them. None. It is frustrating to hear about this, quite frankly,” Call said via email, according to the report.

The Middletown Press on Thursday posted a 15-second YouTube video about a reporter’s visit to the Westport Police Department. The narrator stated: “The Westport Police Department does not make available arrest log records or in-depth police reports to the public unless a formalized request is put through the public information officer. The department also charges for copies of police reports, 50 cents per page.”

The New Haven Register gave this synopsis about Westport:

“Sunshine grade: F

“SUMMARY: Did not provide even basic info on arrests as required by FOI law and does not post arrest information online.

“Arrest log available on demand: No

“In-depth report available?: No

“Asked reporter to identify himself/herself: No

“Does dept. charge for copies?: Yes.”

The newspaper’s F grade to Westport came despite frequent distribution –- usually weekly but often several times a week—to local media of a complete list of all arrests, including motor vehicle infractions, with additional details provided in a synopsis of all criminal arrests.

In addition, Westport police have a designated media relations officer and he or other senior officers routinely provide additional details of arrests upon request by the media as well as photos of those arrested.

The report said the survey was conducted in the following manner:

“We asked to see an arrest log without initially identifying ourselves, to try to gauge how easy it would be for a member of the general public to gain access to the information.

“If police asked for our identity, we were truthful.

“If we were given access to the arrest log, we asked to see an in-depth report on one of the arrests. In factoring a department’s grade, we also checked to see if they provide arrest information online.

“We gave each department a grade from A to F. To get an A, the department had to offer more than just the basic arrest information of name, age, address and charge, preferably the full arrest report.

“The grades are based on a one-time spot check at each police department and do not necessarily reflect a department’s overall day-to-day performance.”

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Posted 03/20/14 at 02:11 AM



Comments

Comment Policy

This is a shocking bit of news and shows a serious breach of public trust by our police department; not to mention a serious breach of the law.
Chief Call must take every step, IMMEDIATELY, to correct this malfeasant abuse of office and must report to the “Westport News” and to “WestportNow” that he has so done.

Posted by Daniel Katz on March 20, 2014 at 09:28 AM | #
 

Why should he report to those two media outlets in particular again???

Posted by Lucy Olensky on March 20, 2014 at 01:58 PM | #
 

Because they are local to Westport, Lucy…he can, in addition, report to any other “media outlet” he cares to.

Posted by Daniel Katz on March 20, 2014 at 02:05 PM | #
 

Just heard from Chief Call regarding my comment and the New Haven Register article that triggered it.

The Register did not print his entire quote concerning the incident…had they done so,  it would have obviated my having to make any comment at all.

The fact is, that all arrest records for people over 18 are available, though they are on computer and must be printed out…there is no “police log” any more.

It happens that the civilian on the desk when the Register reporter appeared did not know how to obtain the records and asked that the reporter wait a minute; the reporter then left before the person on the desk could get assistance.  The records WERE available and that, indeed, sounds more like the way I thought Call would run our police department…I’m glad he contacted me.

Posted by Daniel Katz on March 20, 2014 at 08:53 PM | #
 

I’m struck by the ferociousness of Mr. Katz’s response.  Maybe one day a 911 dispatcher will stop what he’s doing in the middle of his heart attack to care care of an inquiring reporter. I’m sure he won’t mind, FOI is important.

Posted by Isabelle Breen on March 21, 2014 at 12:32 AM | #
 

Daniel,

What I don’t see here is an APOLOGY from you for jumping down the Police Dept’s throat before all the facts were reported. I guess you believe people are guilty before they are proven innocent??
You are on this site quite often commenting on stories, must be nice to sit back from your Ivory Tower & cast aspersions on any & all things Westport.

(Editor’s Note: the balance of this comment has been deleted because it violates the comment policy forbidding personal attacks.)

Posted by John Siddell on March 21, 2014 at 05:08 PM | #
 

John, John, John,
Seemed to me that the mi culpa was inherent in my response to Chief Call’s comment to me which corrected a misapprehension on my part stemming soley from a poor reporting job in the New Haven Register.

As to the ivory tower, sir, it is very nice to sit there.

Posted by Daniel Katz on March 21, 2014 at 06:42 PM | #
 

Dan, Dan, Dan,
Typical response from you, expected nothing less from you. From many of your prior posts over the years you seem to have a major problem with the Westport PD…I wonder why that is? I wonder, I wonder , I wonder??

Posted by John Siddell on March 22, 2014 at 03:09 AM | #
 

Sorry, John, if I gave that impression.  With two sons who have been state troopers and one of them currently an FBI special agent who is chief legal council to the N.E. division, I surely have no trouble with the police or their impirtant function….it’s only any APPARENT abuse of power that galls me.

Posted by Daniel Katz on March 22, 2014 at 09:21 AM | #
 

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