Maine State Police have for years been hiding from the public key details of officer misconduct, claiming that the records aren’t subject to the state’s open records law.

It was always a flimsy excuse, and last year it drew a challenge from two Maine newspapers seeking to shine a light on what happens, or doesn’t, when an officer is punished for falling short of their duties.

Last week, a Superior Court judge agreed, ordering the state police to turn over public records the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News originally requested in 2020 — this time without the heavy redactions.

State police should waste no time fulfilling this request, and the agency should immediately change its record-keeping and public records policies to reflect the judge’s decision. The next time someone asks for these records, they should be provided, in full, without question.

That’s not what happened in 2020, when reporters from the two newspapers separately filed requests for disciplinary records from the Maine State Police.

Some documents were missing altogether, possibly destroyed by the agency. The records that were returned were heavily redacted, making it impossible to discern what the officer in question had done to deserve the discipline.


What’s more, the state police would not cite the statutory reason for each redaction, as is required by law, arguing that doing so would reveal confidential information.

As Judge William R. Anderson of Penobscot Superior Court found in his May 26 ruling, that argument just doesn’t hold up. The state, by law, cannot hold from public view any final disciplinary action against a public employee.

It’s for good reason. To say otherwise would allow the state to keep secret the misconduct of employees whose salaries are paid by the public. It would keep the information from state legislators, whose job it is to pass laws and provide oversight related to law enforcement, as well as from potential future employers, who wouldn’t know whether the officer they’re hiring had been run out of his previous job for misconduct.

And it’s not just the law that should matter to the state police, or to any other police department. Public trust can only come when there is transparency and accountability. Without access to disciplinary records, we don’t know what misconduct is occurring in our police departments, nor do we know whether discipline is being applied appropriately and fairly.

Further investigation by the newspapers found that disciplinary records from sheriff’s offices across the state reveal the same lack of transparency as those at the state police, though some departments were more forthcoming than others. The same could be said about municipal police departments; the Portland Police Department, it should be noted, provided five years of records with no redactions.

The newspapers’ reporting has noted other occasions when law enforcement agencies, in Maine and elsewhere, have released all details of internal investigations into officer misconduct. If officials are OK making that information public in some cases, it should be OK in all scenarios.

Put better, that sort of transparency should be the norm, not a rare occurrence.

Police have tremendous power over the public, so the public has to know that most officers are following the rules — and that when they don’t, they’ll be held to the highest standard.

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