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Massachusetts Rejects Appeal For More Police Info

By Julia L. Ryan, Contributing Writer

The office of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth ruled yesterday against the Cambridge Chronicle’s appeal of a $1,215 fee to access more detailed information from the Cambridge Police Department.

The information in question—dispatch addresses and suspect descriptions—had been available free of charge on the department’s Web site as recently as this summer, according to Chronicle Editor David Harris.

“We are very disappointed and we still believe it is in the public interest for this information to be available,” Harris said. “We will do whatever we can to make sure that happens.”

The Cambridge Police Department did not return multiple requests for comment yesterday.

After noticing that dispatch addresses and suspect descriptions were no longer available online, the Chronicle put in a public records request on July 27 asking for more detailed information on police activity between July 1 and July 27.

The CPD told the Chronicle the information would cost $1,215 and the Chronicle subsequently filed a public records appeal to the Secretary of the Commonwealth on Aug. 13.

“The statutory requirements for the creation and release of a police log do not extend to the addresses to which the police respond,” wrote Supervisor of Records Alan Cote in his letter to Harris explaining his ruling against the appeal. The CPD’s legal advisor received a copy of the letter yesterday, though Harris said the Chronicle had not been informed of the decision when The Crimson called for comment.

Harris said the state took a “very strict approach to interpreting the public records law” in its ruling.

Providing the addresses of police dispatches would require reviewing, copying and re-filing over 500 reports, about 25 hours of work according to an e-mail CPD legal adviser Kelly A. Downes wrote to Harris on Aug. 10.

Given the work involved in the process, Cote wrote that $1,215 is a “reasonable fee estimate” for the department to comply with the request.

The CPD maintains a daily police log on its Web site that currently includes the names, ages, and addresses of people arrested by the Cambridge police and the street names—though not the specific addresses—of police dispatches.

While Downes has emphasized concern about “public safety” in the department’s policy, Harris pointed to a recent gang-related stabbing on Broadway as an example of the community’s need for more detailed information. The police log reported that the stabbing occurred on Broadway but did not provide a specific address.

“If residents are better informed they can make better decisions about their own public safety,” Harris said. “[It would make for] a healthier community and a safer community.”

Cambridge City Councillor Craig A. Kelley also expressed concern about the recent changes in the police log. On Oct. 5, he put forward a policy request seeking more information about how the department releases crime details. The department may have very good reasons for the change, he said, but they are not clear to the public yet.

The Harvard Crimson faced a similar legal battle with the Harvard police department over incident reports, when The Crimson argued that the department must provide the same information as public police forces because it is endowed with “special state powers.” In 2006, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that the Harvard Police were not required to do so.

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