For an agency that pledges to run an open, accountable and transparent operation, the Pittsfield Police Department exercises great pains to keep the waters murky. Case in point: Their well-deserved reputation for denying citizens access to public records is the worst in Massachusetts. Why expend so much effort to bury information if there is nothing to hide? I experienced this malfeasance firsthand when numerous written requests for public records were dodged by the administrative services commander.
With nowhere else to turn I solicited help from Boston. I was put in contact with Alan N. Cote; first deputy Secretary of State and supervisor of records under Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin. In addition to holding a Juris Doctorate degree from the Massachusetts School of Law, Mr. Cote was a graduate of the State Police academy. He spent eight years working as a Chelmsford police officer and had zero tolerance for police corruption. Alan Cote was a zealous advocate for the principle of open government records.
After communicating with Mr Cote, he concluded that the Pittsfield Police Department willfully and intentionally violated the Commonwealth’s open record laws. Acting on my behalf, he placed several phone calls to the department, demanding the release of documents to which I was legally entitled. Several weeks and numerous conversations later it became obvious that the administrative services department had no intention of complying. Police officials rationalized that any risk of drawing fire from the secretary of state’s office outweighed the perils of divulging departmental transgressions via the release of public records.
Many of the requested documents were eventually procured, but not without tenacious pursuit by the Secretary of State’s office. Ironically, had this information been released in a timely fashion, I never would have discovered the deceptive and misleading tactics employed by Pittsfield police personnel during criminal investigations. Alan Cote had apparently rattled someone within the department’s inner sanctum. This person got scared, lost focus, and released ancillary records – material that I never knew existed – which exposed departmental improprieties.
By seeking refuge in secrecy, the Pittsfield Police Department’s administrative services division has lost credibility with the people it serves. When requests for public records are evaded, taxpayers become suspicious. This is a poor substitute for running an open, accountable, and transparent operation