The task force charged by Massachusetts law with helping to update the state’s public record laws managed to meet seven times over the course of the past year without accomplishing a single thing.
The so-called “working group” couldn’t even agree on the simplest of measures — whether state police should be required to keep daily arrest logs that can be viewed by the public.
In its report, filed quietly the Friday before Christmas, task force members nonetheless gave themselves credit for their work.
“While the group could not reach consensus on proposed legislation, it highlighted areas of concern in current statutes and recommended further examination of these laws,” said state Supervisor of Records Rebecca Murray, who chaired the group.
In plain English: The group recommended further study of the issues they were supposed to spend 2017 studying. The task force, which included representatives from the Legislature, the executive branch and law enforcement, had been expected to offer recommendations on issues ranging from state police logs to domestic violence reporting to criminal background information.
What a waste of a year, and a squandering of any small momentum generated when the Legislature passed a modest overhaul of the state’s public records law in 2016. House Majority Leader Robert DeLeo didn’t even bother naming a representative to the group as required by state law.
Members couldn’t even agree whether state police should be required by law to keep daily arrest logs. (The agency currently keeps logs voluntarily, and often refuses to share even basic information, including the names of those arrested.)
Let’s be clear: State police should absolutely be held to the same standards of transparency of municipal police departments, which are required to keep daily arrest logs for inspection by the public.
The need for openness and accountability should be obvious, especially now, as the state police leadership deals with accusations that it has altered police reports after the fact.
This fall, state trooper Ryan Sceviour sued several superior officers, including Col. Richard McKeon, then head of the state police, saying they forced him to change his report on the Oct. 16 arrest of Alli Bibaud to shield her father, Dudley District Court Judge Timothy Bibaud, from embarrassment. Another officer is also suing, saying she was told to shred and redact reports containing crude statements Alli Bibaud made to the troopers who arrested her.
McKeon was allowed to retire without facing disciplinary action, and Gov. Charlie Baker has suggested it’s “not that unusual” for details to be scrubbed from police reports.
Of course, the public would not have known about the scrubbing at all had Sceviour not filed suit. State police tried to shield themselves from public scrutiny. Requiring the agency to keep daily arrest logs — like municipal departments everywhere — is a modest first step.
The task force also passed on making any sort of recommendations on whether information about domestic violence arrests should be included in daily logs or who should have access to criminal records.
We do, however, credit Salem state Sen. Joan Lovely, a task force member who was a driving force behind the 2016 public records update, for pushing to require state police to keep arrest logs. Lovely also was among those on the task force working to make actual recommendations to the Legislature, as required by law, and not simply kicking the can down the road. The task force needed more members like her.
One could argue the task force outperformed the other group created by the 2016 law. The task force that was supposed to be looking into extending the public records law to lawmakers themselves — including the Legislature and the governor’s office — never met. It has a new deadline of Dec. 1, 2018, to report its findings.
Given the performance of the current task force, we are not holding our breath.