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Monday, April 14, 2008

Yale complies with FOI

Yale complies with ruling,releases police records
By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN — Yale University has decided to let stand a recent ruling by the state Freedom of Information Commission that the records of its Police Department are subject to public scrutiny.
The university said it will abide by the FOI ruling issued in February because “Yale recognizes the unique and public law enforcement role that its officers play in the city of New Haven.”
Public Defender Janet Perrotti, who brought the FOI challenge after Yale refused to give her the personnel files of two Yale officers who had arrested her teenage client, said she was “thrilled” by the university’s decision.
“I commend Yale for doing the right thing. It is in everyone’s best interest to have an open policy,” Perrotti said. “From my perspective, it is important that the public has faith in the Yale Police Department. The only way to know what they are doing is if their records are open to us.”
Perrotti’s 16-year-old client was arrested while riding his bicycle on the sidewalk outside his school, the Cooperative High School, in May 2007.
The teen was charged with breach of peace and jailed for a short time after he was picked up by Yale officers Brian Donnelly and Chris Cofrancesco.
Perrotti was concerned that the teen was racially profiled and she thought it was important to review the officers’ personnel records.
Yale, in the statement it issued Friday, said it “takes extremely seriously its relationship to the public in performing its police work in the city.”
The university added that its records “relating to the police function of the department — specifically including police reports and arrest records — have always been available to the public through the New Haven Police Department.”
The Yale Police Department has a close relationship with the city police and has full arrest powers, while it often patrols city streets near the university.
Yale Police Chief James Perrotti, whose first cousin is married to Public Defender Janet Perrotti, refused her request for records on his police officers, claiming that his department was a private, rather than a public department.
The FOI found that Yale’s department met all four criteria of a public entity.
These include performing a governmental function, as well as being subject to governmental regulation; it was created by government and receives a minimum amount of public funds.
Yale attorneys at the FOI hearing conceded the governmental function aspect, but took issue with other criteria, leading many observers to believe the university would appeal the ruling.
The Yale Police Department was created in 1894 when the city Police Department assigned two officers to put down disturbances between residents and Yale students.
The arrangement was formalized by the state legislature in 1983; its officers are appointed by the city’s police commissioners and through a memorandum of understanding, New Haven is involved in the day-to-day activities of the department.
Yale defended the members of its department, stating they “bring the highest professionalism, integrity and dedication to the effective work they perform every day on behalf of the Yale community and our neighbors in New Haven. That exemplary level of service will continue in every aspect of the department’s work.”
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com

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