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The Cambridge Chronicle has taken issue with the city police department’s restrictions on public records.
The local newspaper has filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office, charging that the Cambridge Police Department’s report of last Sunday’s alleged attack of a Harvard graduate student wrongly withheld information about the suspect and the exact whereabouts of the incident.
Chronicle News Editor David Harris said that since the beginning of summer, the police department has been reluctant to provide information on police dispatch locations and suspect identities in their reports.
On Sunday, a Harvard graduate student had her iPhone stolen while walking on Putnam Avenue. The Cambridge Police Department’s report provided to the Chronicle identified the suspect as a black male between the ages of 20 and 24, but further information was withheld.
In an article published on Wednesday, the Chronicle reported on what it termed the Cambridge Police Department’s “new policy” of withholding information.
The police department holds reports—part of the public record—and usually makes them available only for in-person inquiries.
As part of an informal agreement with the Chronicle, the department faxes reports to the newspaper upon request.
In both cases, the department reviews the documents and redacts any information that might conflict with an ongoing investigation, said the police department’s legal adviser Kelly Downes.
Downes said that in this regard, the department is acting within Massachusetts public records law.
“We have not changed our policy,” Downes said. “Releasing information about suspects is determined on a case by case basis.”
The Cambridge Police Department made national news this summer after it was accused of racial profiling in the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. The Crimson reported the arrest after reviewing the police department report on the incident.
But Harris said the restrictions on public information had nothing to do with the press surrounding the Gates episode, and in fact preceded the incident.
“Certain information wasn’t being provided,” Harris said. “It’s kind of a slow erosion of public information.”
“We think it’s the public’s right to know,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Lindsay Kallander, a junior at Suffolk University, was mugged along the Charles River. Based on her experience, she would have felt more comfortable with the dissemination of the suspects’ information in the incident Sunday, she told The Crimson yesterday.
—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at email@example.com.
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