, Salem, MA

April 10, 2014

Our view: Public has a right to all police logs

The Salem News

---- — In their rush to respond to the brutal slaying of Jennifer Martel, the Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a bill that ironically would protect people like Jared Remy, her accused killer, as well as the victims of such serial abusers.

The version of the bill passed unanimously on a voice vote by the House on Tuesday includes language that would keep reports and arrests involving domestic abuse and assault off the police log, which is open to the public. A separate, secret police log would be created to document those reports.

Supporters of this provision say guaranteeing confidentiality would encourage more victims of abuse to come forward to report it.

A case can be made for that argument, but the flip side is that keeping the reports secret would also shield the identity of their alleged abusers.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea for several reasons.

A public arrest log is a bedrock element of the public’s right to know. This is not a police state, where you can be picked up off the street and made to disappear without anyone knowing what happened to you.

It also helps prevent law enforcement and others from covering for the powerful and politically connected or pressuring their victims.

In 2010, a woman who reported she was violently attacked by an aide to then-New York Gov. David Paterson later complained that she was pressured by state police and the governor himself to back off. When she subsequently failed to appear in court to press her case, the aide went free.

But when the case was exposed by the New York press, the aide was convicted, and Paterson dropped plans to run for a full term as governor.

Just as importantly, the public log lets the public know what crimes are being committed in their community and whether anyone has been arrested and charged with those crimes. And they are entitled to that information.

And if we start keeping two sets of police logs and refusing to let the public know about certain crimes to protect the privacy of victims, where do we stop? What about the victims of burglaries, ordinary assaults, robberies, car thefts?

Jared Remy, son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, has a long history of violence against women — and other men. An admitted user of steroids, he also has a volcanic temper that has landed him in trouble many times since he was a young man.

Last Aug. 13, Remy became angry with Martel, the mother of his child. He argued with her and ended the quarrel by slamming her head into a bathroom mirror. Remy was arrested but was freed without bail, despite his history of attacks on women. He appeared in court the next day but again walked away a free man, as he had so many times before.

The next night, Remy showed up at the apartment he shared with Martel and stabbed her to death, police say.

The fact that Remy’s arrest was public record had nothing to do with Martel’s death, nor would keeping it secret have made any difference, given the court’s kid-glove treatment of Remy over many years.

We have been generally supportive of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s domestic-abuse reform legislation, though in a previous editorial, we flagged the “troubling section” that would cloak domestic abuse reports in secrecy.

We urged legislators then to tread carefully rather than try to cram through flawed legislation that might score easy points in an election year while failing to address the root of the problem.

With House approval, the bill now goes to the state Senate, then is expected to go to a conference committee. It’s still not too late for a more thoughtful and targeted response to the systemic failings that were laid bare by the Remy case.