“GREENE POLICE BLOTTER” is the title of a regular section of GreeneLand’s almost-daily newspaper, The Daily Mail. On choice occasions, this compilation yields memorable reports, such as
The Coxsackie Police Department charged Sean Moorhus, 35, of Saugerties with driving while intoxicated by drugs and other traffic tickets.
[State police] charged a 17-year-old male of Oak Hill with unlawful possession of marijuana and other traffic tickets.
Rarely do Blotter readers get invited to contemplate the criminality of possessing, and being intoxicated by, traffic tickets. Meanwhile, in less amusing and more insidious ways, the Blotter is a faulty, deceptive collection.
--------For one thing, Blotter accounts of events are woefully incomplete. Readers are told what agent brings what charge(s) against what suspects on what date, but they are not told about the causal events. Thus, we learn that “State police” charged Timothy Gofmans Jr and Christina J. Stewart of South Cairo in mid-December with criminal mischief, but we get no hint about the alleged mischief’s nature or target. We learn that a Frank Cowan was charged on December 23rd with criminal possession of a weapon, with menacing, and with endangering a child’s welfare. We are told that Cowan is 36 years old, that he lives in Saugerties, and that his suspected offenses were classed as second- and third-degree felonies. We learn nothing about the incident: the location, the child, the weapon, the menacing, the complainant(s). Again, while a Blotter item recounts the age, residence, arraignment, jailing and calibrated charges lodged against Donald Parkinson on December 26th—“third-degree menacing, fourth-degree criminal mischief, second-degree obstruction of governmental administration, and disorderly conduct”—it is silent about the triggering events.
------- In another way too, the Greene Police Blotter lacks completeness. While its title appears to promise coverage of police work throughout GreeneLand, its cases actually come only from activities of State and some local (Cairo, Coxsackie) police officers. NOT recorded in the Blotter, for the past four years, has been work done by Catskill Village police. That omission--of news about the work of GreeneLand’s largest local police force; of information about daily life in GreeneLand’s county seat and most populous community--is due most immediately to Village Police Chief Dave Darling. He pretends, contrary to established law, that his officers’ incident and action reports are not public documents. For his success in sustaining that fiction, Chief Darling depends on the acquiescence, if not the active support, of his employers: the Village Trustees. And for the endurance of their collusion in this law-snubbing practice, the Trustees and the chief depend on the passivity of appropriate protestors, such as publishers of newspapers and, gulp, of news blogs.
Chief Darling disputes our version of his position. When asked (on Thursday, 1/14) to respond to the preceding paragraph, he said “It’s not fair, and it’s not accurate. I never said that our reports are not public documents.” He maintained, however, that “I have no way of giving you free access to our ‘blotter’. Our incident and action reports are now done on-line; no more ring binders full of paper. Internet access to the on-line reports is restricted to authorized personnel. And I’m not going to let just anybody come into a secured area at police headquarters, and sit down for an hour or more in front of one of our computer screens reading a day’s or a week’s reports.”
The obstacles cited by Chief Darling have eluded his counterparts in other GreeneLand municipalities. And in Hudson, for example, all arrest and incident reports that are filed by that city’s police officers go promptly to the Register-Star’s police reporter, Andrew Amelinckx, by e-mail.
1. The Catskill department's position is faulty on numerous grounds as far as New York State's Freedom of Information Law goes. There are only a very specific number of very specific grounds for denying access to public records. That such records are in electronic form and the agency in question can't be bothered to figure out how to either print them out or else transfer them to another electronic format (i.e., outputting them to email or a PDF, so that you don't have to sit in front of the police department terminal) is not your problem. Moreover, New York State passed in recent years sweeping laws regarding access to electronic records. My suggestion would be to (A) submit a formal FOIL request for these records; (B) submit a request for an advisory opinion to Bob Freeman of the NYS Committee on Open Government, describing the situation and asking what laws apply; (C) submit Freeman's response to the agency; and (D) if you still aren't getting satisfaction, find a courageous lawyer willing to help you file an Article 78 suit to force the issue. (At that point, the department will probably say Uncle and give you what you're asking for. Or else you win your case and ask the court to have the agency pay your attorney fees.)
2. There's another problem with these blotter entries, whether in the Daily Mail, the Register, or most any other paper, besides the lack of context provided about the arrest: the results of the arrest are rarely published. So if, say, the editor of SeeingGreene is arrested on any flimsy charge, his name will be paraded in the paper for all to see. The dismissal of the flimsy charges will not be. There ought to be not just a Police Blotter, but a Court blotter...
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