Yale to allow public access to campus police disciplinary records

Sunday, April 27, 2008

HARTFORD, Conn.— Yale University said it would abide by a decision that Yale police disciplinary records should be open to the public in a case involving the arrest of a black teenager.

Yale said on April 11 it would not appeal a Feb. 13 ruling by the state Freedom of Information Commission that Yale police records should be open to the public, even though the department is privately run.

“We are doing so because Yale recognizes the unique and public law enforcement role that its officers play in the city of New Haven,” Yale said in a statement. “Yale takes extremely seriously its relationship to the public in performing its police work in the city.”

Police reports and arrest records have always been available to the public through the New Haven Police Department, Yale said.

In its ruling, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission determined that the Yale University Police Department is the functional equivalent of a public agency because officers’ police powers extend into the city of New Haven and officers are allowed to make felony arrests anywhere in Connecticut. The YUPD was created by the city of New Haven in 1894 and today all YUPD officers must be appointed by the New Haven board of police commissioners.

New Haven public defender Janet Perrotti appealed to the commission after Yale denied her request for the disciplinary records of two Yale officers who arrested her client, a black teenager, for riding his bike on a city sidewalk last spring.

Perrotti asked for the records to gauge the officers' credibility after their account of the incident contradicted her 16-year-old client's story. Yale denied the request, arguing that its private police force was exempt from open-records laws.

The commission in February unanimously adopted a hearing officer's decision from December that compared Yale police with a government agency.

Perrotti regularly reviews the disciplinary records of New Haven officers, she said, and wants only to do the same for Yale. She welcomed Yale's decision not to appeal the ruling but said she had not seen the records yet. She added that the case would have implications in providing access to police records in the future.

Access to campus crime reports has changed significantly since 1991 when the Clery Act went into effect. Named for Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery, who was raped and killed in her dorm room in 1986, the law requires all higher education institutions to release crime statistics and security policies. Institutions must also publish an annual crime report and maintain a daily public crime log.

In 2006, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Campus Policemen Act, which makes private universities’ police records public documents. Police at Georgia private colleges now must release their crime reports to the public in the same way public universities and police departments must.

The Massachusetts General Assembly is currently debating the Campus Crime Information Bill, which would require private schools that employ special state police officers to provide public access to crime reports. H.B. 3249 has been promoted by the Safe Campus Initiative, an advocacy organization founded by students at three Massachusetts private schools — Harvard, MIT and Boston University.

Other states with laws requiring private institutions to disclose campus-crime information include California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Tags: , , , ,