City’s secrecy ploy hurts PD and public
Here’s a “1984”-like distortion of our language that ought to embarrass and worry citizens of Grand Junction:
It is “contrary to the public interest” to tell residents of this city what a former police officer allegedly did to warrant two internal investigations — and to explain how those investigations were conducted.
Right. As if Grand Junction residents have no interest in knowing what police officers hired “to serve and protect” citizens are doing that may violate their law enforcement responsibilities and might even endanger people.
The “contrary to the public interest” claim comes from a letter written to this newspaper by Interim Police Chief John Camper and City Attorney John Shaver. It was in response to The Daily Sentinel’s request for documents about the investigations and subsequent resignation of former police officer Courtney Crooks.
“Don’t worry, you members of the public don’t need to know about this,” they are effectively telling us. “When there’s something we think you should know, we’ll tell you. Move along now.”
In fact, the public has a huge stake in knowing what occurs through police internal affairs investigations, as courts around the country have held. Police can’t hide behind claims of privacy when officers are investigated on allegations that affect how they perform their duties, courts in Colorado have said.
Beyond that, the ability of police to do their jobs is tied directly to the confidence the public has in them. And departments conduct internal affairs investigations specifically to ensure that police misconduct isn’t undermining the relationship between the police and public. As a court in Massachusetts said, “It would be odd indeed, to shield from the light of public scrutiny ... the workings and determinations of a process whose quintessential purpose is to inspire public confidence.”
But that’s exactly what Camper and the Grand Junction Police Department seem intent on doing by keeping secret any information about this investigation.
What was Crooks accused of doing that warranted not one, but two internal investigations?
We have no clue.
Was it related to the case in which he was arrested on misdemeanor harassment of his wife?
Or was it something even more serious that directly affected the performance of his duties as a police officer?
Camper doesn’t think citizens need to know that.
The letter from Camper and Shaver also says disclosure of the information would violate “the department’s polices for internal affairs investigations.”
But there should be no blanket policy against the release of such information. The Colorado
Supreme Court has ruled that a police chief or sheriff must weigh public and private interests in determining whether to release information on a specific request and they must provide clear and rational reasons for denying a public request, not just cite a departmental policy against it.
Camper is not off to an auspicious start when it comes to keeping the public informed about the workings of his department.
Earlier this year, the Sentinel filed a similar request regarding an internal investigation in the
Fruita Police Department. City officials there concluded the report was public information.
On Monday, the Sentinel’s Paul Shockley filed another request for information regarding the
Crooks case and other internal investigations conducted by the Grand Junction Police Department in the last year. We hope the response will be different this time.
Camper and Shaver need to realize their first obligation is to the public. The citizens of this community are badly served when the chief tries to keep secret critical information about what occurs in the department.