Commission: Yale police must comply with requests for records

CONNECTICUT — The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission decided Wednesday that Yale University PoliceDepartment records are subject to state Freedom of Information Act requests. The commission, which is charged under state law with administering and enforcing the act, ruled in favor of Janet Perrottiafter the police department had denied her original request for personnel filesof two department officers.

Perrotti, a public defender, filed the Freedom of Information Act requestwith the police department during her investigation of a May 2007 incident whentwo Yale police officers charged a 16-year-old with breach of peace for ridinghis bicycle on a public sidewalk.

”My client was arrested for riding his bicycle,” Perrotti said.”They do this all the time, some cops have nothing better to do,”Perrotti said.

Perrotti suspected misconduct when the 16-year-old’s account of thearrest differed from the police officer’s account.

In June 2007 Perrotti filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copiesof the officers’ personnel files. Yale University denied her request inJuly 2007, citing that ”Yale University and its police department areprivate entities and are not subject to the Freedom of InformationAct.”

Perrotti then appealed to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission,alleging that Yale police had violated the Freedom of Information Act by denyingher request. In September 2007 a hearing was held and in December 2007 ahearing officer issued an initial decision in favor of Perrotti, concluding thatthe Yale Police were a public entity.

Under state law, an institution is considered “public” for Freedom of Information Act requests if it performs a government function, was created by the government, receives government funding or is subject to government involvement or regulation.

The Freedom of Information Commission ruled that the Yale University PoliceDepartment was a public agency, and therefore subject to Perrotti’sFreedom of Information Act Request. The commission concluded that the YalePolice Department does perform a government function because of its ability topolice beyond the Yale campus, to within the city of New Haven.

”This decision affirms a principle that should hold true in moststates — that even at private colleges, a police force must provide informationabout its activities,” Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the StudentPress Law Center, said.

”This is positive for student journalists because crime reportsaren’t just newsworthy, they’re important for the safety of theirreaders,” Goldstein said.

”I am thrilled for my client. It is a little victory for mankind. It is a victory for kids who have to deal with New Haven policemen harassingthem,” Perrotti said.

Perrotti believes Yale University will appeal the commission’sdecision.

Dorie Baker, associate director of public affairs at Yale University, saidthe university has not decided if they are going to appeal.