Police reports in domestic violence cases will be off-limits to the public under a little-noticed measure sent to the governor’s desk early Friday.
The passage of the bill, which will also protect the identity of alleged domestic abusers and their victims until a case lands in court, set up an uncomfortable clash between victims’ groups and First Amendment advocates intent on protecting the public’s right to know.
Advocates for the abused, who support the legislation even as they acknowledge critics’ concerns, argue the prospect of news media coverage can dissuade victims from reporting domestic violence.
But free speech groups say the measure will shield abusers, and the police who investigate them, from scrutiny. The bill, they add, will deprive residents of important information about key players in their communities.
“If a teacher, if a coach, if a guidance counselor — any number of public officials — is arrested under these circumstances, that’s something the public has a right to know,” said Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, an industry group that represents newspapers across the state, including The Boston Globe.
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