Yale accused of violating open-records law

The Yale Police Department’s job is to enforce the law. But now, its own officers are accusing the department of breaking it.

In July, the Yale Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents 65 YPD officers and detectives, requested information — including a copy of the YPD’s budget and the salaries of its top officials, who are not union members — from the University.

The union says Yale must release those documents under the Freedom of Information Act. But the University denied the request, saying the YPD is a private entity even though a state commission ruled last year that it is functionally equivalent to a public agency and therefore subject to FOIA requests. Now the union has brought a formal complaint to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

The ruling last year, which also came from the FOIC, said that because Yale’s police officers have authority throughout the city and have the power to make felony arrests, the department must disclose all public records and files on request.

Seizing on that FOIC decision, union officials — who are entering negotiations with the University for a new contract in the next few months — hand-delivered two letters to YPD Chief James Perrotti in late July. The union requested information about the salaries and benefits of high-ranking YPD officers, and data pertaining to capital expenditures made by the department in the last two fiscal years.

So far, Yale has not complied with either of those requests.

In a letter dated Aug. 21, Associate General Counsel Caroline Hendel ’83 told the union that the University would not release the requested salary information, claiming that the 2008 ruling did not apply to this case.

“The Department is not … a public agency for all purposes, and it is not required to disclose documents that are unrelated to its law enforcement function,” she said.

Under FOIC guidelines, an entity is public if it performs a governmental function, was created by government, is regulated by that government and receives some amount of governmental funding. Because the YPD has full law enforcement authority, it meets the first three criteria. In its ruling last year, the FOIC pointed to the tax-exempt status of the department’s headquarters, which was assessed at over $5.6 million in 2007, as evidence that the department receives financial support from the government.

Still, University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said the information requested “wasn’t addressed” in the decision last year.

“It continues to be our position that as a private institution … Yale isn’t obligated under this limited ruling to provide confidential salary data,” she said in an e-mail message.

Robinson said Yale has not yet responded to the request for information about the YPD’s budget and its spending on vehicles and other major expenditures. But the Freedom of Information Act says that public agencies have only 10 days to answer inquiries from the public. By not responding to the letters sent in July, the law states, Yale has essentially rejected the request. Robinson said in another e-mail, however, that the University hopes to make a decision about releasing the budgets “very soon.”

Now Tom Hennick, a mediator with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, is working to bring the union and Yale to an agreement. He has until November, when the commission will hold a hearing on the matter, to arrange a settlement.

But even though Hennick said 64 percent of cases are settled without a hearing, there is no indication that the parties will reach an agreement before November. Hennick has left messages with Yale regarding the case, but he has not yet heard back from University officials.

For its part, the New Haven Police Department makes information about its salaries and expenditures available to the public, according to Joe Avery, a spokesman for the NHPD.

In the 2008 dispute, Public Defender Janet Perrotti — who is married to YPD Chief James Perrotti’s first cousin — filed a FOIA request following the arrest of her client, a 16-year-old who was charged with breach of peace.

Upon noticing discrepancies between her client’s account and the arrest report, Janet Perroti requested the personnel histories of the two YPD officers who made the arrest. James Perrotti denied the request, and Janet Perroti successfully appealed to the FOIC.

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