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Norwalk cops FOI compliance gets a ‘B,’ department adds access

NORWALK, Conn. – An investigation by reporters from the New Haven Register, The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press showed varying levels of police department compliance with the state’s Freedom of Information Act when it came to giving out information about arrests.

“Five municipal police departments and one state police troop flouted Freedom of Information law in a statewide compliance check this month by refusing to release even basic arrest information upon request,” the report said.

The report, which came out during Connecticut’s Sunshine Week, gave letter grades to all the departments it reviewed. Norwalk got a “B” rating, something the irked Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, who, nevertheless, has already tweaked his department’s compliance.

“While many agencies were criticized in the article and I was pleased that Norwalk received a grade of ‘B,’ I felt we deserved better, as we have always worked to provide open access to the media,” Kulhawik said.

The survey was base on a single sampling, he said. “The reporter, apparently not being familiar with our agency, did not note that we provide a daily press briefing each morning where the press can review incidents and arrests and request specific information on the cases of interest to them. It also did not note that, for some time, we have provided the daily logs for arrests, citations and incidents to the media electronically each morning. A complete printed archive of the logs is also available in the front lobby of police headquarters.”

What Kulhawik did not say was that, if a reporter misses the morning briefing – the time of which has been known to change on short notice – getting information becomes exponentially more difficult. Reporters who do attend the briefing are sometimes left waiting for long periods before someone shows up to dispense the information.

In its summary of the Norwalk experience, the reporter wrote, “Basic arrest information accessible at department sporadically online, but not in-depth reports. We were not asked to identify ourselves.”

The report said the arrest log was available in a binder on a desk covering weeks of daily activity, but that the reporter was told to go to court to get full police reports.

It said the department’s online information was spotty, with “very sporadic info on FaceBook; Twitter had hit-and-run suspect, burglary warning and sex assault arrest but not especially timely.”

Kulhawik took quick action on the comment about the department’s online presence.

“One valid criticism was that the logs were not readily available on our website,” he said in an email. “I took that constructively and have added a link to the daily logs on our department webpage. The link is located on the homepage for the police department under ‘DAILY LOGS.’ Daily arrest, citation and incident logs are automatically generated at 6am each morning and a link to those logs is now located via that webpage.”

The reporters checked all 92 police department across the state. The five that flunked were Branford, Middlebury, New Haven, state police Troop G in Bridgeport, West Haven and Westport. South Windsor and West Hartford aced the test, the report said.

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