The Freedom of Information Commission’s Wednesday ruling that the Yale Police Department’s records should be subject to public scrutiny is requisite step forward for any university that purports to value transparency and accountability.
As one of the only bodies at Yale that can, with the click of handcuffs or the bang of a bullet, change a student, city resident’s or community’s future, its records must be as open as those of any public force in Connecticut.
Although there is speculation on the part of Public Defender Janet Perrotti that Yale will appeal the unanimous decision of the state commission, we call on the University to settle with Wednesday’s ruling and halt all pursuit of a ruling more narrowly tailored — and, by extension, less in line with the values by which Yale purports to operate.
On the rudimentary level is the legal question: Does the YPD constitute a private law-enforcement agency?
In December, University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said, “We draw our powers through the city of New Haven, and we work with the Police Commission on some things, but basically we’re a private entity.” But this argument misses the point.
Particularly in Connecticut, a state with a history of community censure as a means of discipline, police with the power to arrest are, in virtually all cases, fundamentally public — if not technically then practically. An arrest can make headlines. It can humiliate, sometimes rightfully so, sometimes unjustly. It can impact town-gown relations.
But the larger matter concerns the question of transparency. Since the days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers — and the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in the mid-1960s — our society has been pressuring officials to be forthright with their constituents.
Openness breeds accountability, and accountability breeds excellence.
Yale should embrace these same principles in matters relating to the YPD. Until then, after all, we cannot help but wonder: What is there to hide?