The MBTA won’t keep its arrests secret after all.
After initially asserting that arrest information was confidential under state law, the MBTA reversed course this month, saying it will now provide the names and addresses of people its police department takes into custody.
The policy shift followed a Globe story about the agency’s decision to keep its arrests under wraps and appeals with the state Supervisor of Records, which oversees public access to government documents.
“In light of your appeal, the MBTA deemed it prudent to resolve the matter,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
State law generally requires police departments to maintain a public daily log with the names and addresses of people they arrest. Only certain arrests, such as those for sexual violence or domestic violence, are confidential under the law.
But when the Globe requested a copy of the MBTA Transit Police’s daily log for April 26, the MBTA blacked out the names of everyone it arrested that day. The MBTA maintained that while its police incident log was public, its arrest log was confidential under the Criminal Offender Record Information Act, a law that restricts access to the state’s centralized database of criminal records.
The state’s Supervisor of Records, Rebecca Murray, questioned that explanation, noting that CORI rules explicitly state that its restrictions do not apply to daily police logs. The MBTA initially argued that its arrest logs were not daily police logs and were therefore not covered by the exemption.
The MBTA’s refusal to release arrest information drew complaints from First Amendment lawyers.
“The concept of secret arrests is repugnant to basic constitutional values,” said David A. Schulz, who helps run the Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School. “To condone them would make meaningful democratic oversight of law enforcement impossible.”
But after the Globe wrote about the MBTA’s decision in late July and appealed to the Supervisor of Records again, the MBTA provided the Globe with a list of people arrested on April 26. On Friday, the MBTA also provided the Globe with the names and addresses of people arrested earlier this month.
“The MBTA went above and beyond what is legally required and created a document that was not required by the Public Records Law,” Pesaturo said.
The dispute illustrates the difficulty in obtaining police records in Massachusetts that are public in other states. For instance, a number of police departments have cited the CORI law to withhold other routine police records. Several local police departments, for instance, refused to release records on police who were caught driving while drunk, and the State Police withheld a report on a judge accused of stealing a $4,000 watch at Logan Airport.
The Globe subsequently sued the police departments for withholding the records, but the case is still pending. Separately, a working group is reviewing rules on public access to criminal records and plans to make recommendations to the Legislature by the end of the year.Todd Wallack can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.