The Telegram is reporting that the city has clarified its social media policy “in the wake of concerns raised by some city councilors in recent months about the use of social media by the Police Department and by Police Chief Gary J. Gemme via his own Twitter account.”
Here are the official notes from the meeting. The petitions regarding video archives, social media, and a public records point person were all referred to the Rules and Legislative Affairs Committee (George Russell/Bill Eddy/Joe O’Brien).
The fourth petition, asking that the City Council generally “support the passage of state legislation to promote freedom of information, open government, and accessible public records” was adopted in the form of a written resolution [PDF], 11-0. “Councilor O’Brien moved to adopt the Resolution as submitted by the petitioner – Resolution adopted on a roll
call vote of 11 Yeas and 0 Nays. Referred to Rules and Legislative Affairs Committee for informational purposes only.”
Rules does not often meet, but we’ve been told there will be a meeting to consider the three petitions, and in any case we will be bird-dogging these petitions through the process.
(Yes, I am a bit disoriented in the video above. There was a well-attended recognition of Herb Adams at the beginning of the meeting, and we were still standing in the hall, waiting for the crowd to clear out, when we heard the Mayor announce that the first of our petitions was under consideration.)
To kick off Sunshine Week in Worcester, the T&G today published the results of their attempts to look at various area police logs:
The law is clear: Police departments must keep and update a daily log of their activities, reported crimes and arrests, and that log must be readily available to the public at no cost and with no questions asked.
But a number of municipal police departments and state police barracks across the region failed to comply with that basic requirement this past week during a series of checks carried out by the Telegram & Gazette.
Worcester Police Headquarters
The requester went to the records office and asked if there was a public log of incidents and arrests and was directed to another office. Once there, a binder with all arrests was handed to the requester with no questions asked. When the requester asked if there was a list of incidents he was sent back to the records office. When the woman at the records office was asked if there was a list of just the incidents that police responded to from two days ago he was told, “You can’t get that. Do you know how many incidents we respond to?” At that point another receptionist grabbed a thin binder off a shelf and handed it to the requester. The binder contained a list of incidents the police had responded to over the past week with times, locations and incident types. The records office has a sign that says it is open Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.” –Justice Louis Brandeis
March 11-17 is Sunshine Week, “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”
The T&G will be running a report on transparency in local government, and a group of residents will be petitioning the City Council to take action in four areas:
9t. Michael Benedetti request the archived city meeting videos be made available in a more easily accessible format that is shareable, downloadable and embeddable to support increased transparency and openness in government.
9u. Joe Scully request the creation of a public records and data retention policy regarding the use of social media technology to support increased transparency and openness in government.
9v. Christopher Robarge of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts request City Council support the passage of state legislation to promote freedom of information, open government, and accessible public records, including measures to minimize the costs of accessing public records and improve the use of information technology to make government information publicly accessible.
9w. Jeremy Shulkin request the establishment of an ombudsman or point person to handle all requests by individuals or media outlets requesting information on any city department and that this employee’s contact information be easily accessible on the city’s website to support increased transparency and openness in government.
I penned this open letter to Chief Gemme and the community after finding that the Worcester Police Department (WPD) removed from the WPD Facebook page an earlier letter I wrote raising concerns about Worcester shifting away from Community Policing towards Predictive Policing . Community members have also now documented that other posts and comments raising issues or making critical comments have also been removed.
February 17th, 2012
Dear Chief Gemme,
Yesterday I publicly shared my concerns with you regarding the Worcester Police Department’s (WPD) training on Predictive Policing and the inherent conflict, danger and disruptive nature of pursuing such a new course while also attempting to implement Community Policing.
This is a crucial conversation for our community as we struggle to effectively prioritize limited policing resources and funding, and so I had directed my elected officials and local media to also read and respond.
Unfortunately, the letter Iposted to the Worcester Police Department’s Facebook page has been either blocked, hidden or deleted which raises immediate concerns vis a vis transparency, constituent communication with elected officials and data retention. I have since been told that communications from other Worcester residents have also been removed. Why is the Worcester Police Department opposed to people asking questions and raising issues? Is that not the definition of Social Media?
Please do not dismiss this as a Myspace food fight, you had seemed to understand the new primacy of digital communication. With the launch of the WPD’s foray into social media you wrote, “Social media is not only the future, but the present. Communicating directly with the public and providing current information through innovative platforms is critical to maintaining trust. “
While exasperated teens and dueling friends are free to simply delete unwanted comments and criticisms posted to their Facebook pages you are not. As you have been frequently reminded, the Worcester Police Department is no different than most public bodies in the Commonwealth and as such is bound to adhere to Massachusetts Public Records law and data retention guidelines.
I ask that you immediately restore my letter to you and Worcester City Councilors to the WPD Facebook page, that other posts made by community residents be immediately restored as well, and that the community be reassured that future disregard for open community discourse, transparency and public records management will not reoccur.