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PCLI queries Nassau, Suffolk Police over FOIL issues

The Press Club of Long Island has been working to break down recently erected barriers to basic Nassau and Suffolk county police information that is legally open to the public for review.

Reporters have expressed concerns that Nassau police have been withholding information from arrest and incident summaries department staffers regularly supply to local journalists who use the information to compile newspaper police blotter columns.

News gatherers also grew concerned that the Suffolk police Media Supplemental Reports (MSR), an electronic database used to compile police blotters in that county, was recently edited to permanently remove the remarks field of the database that previously included a short narrative of the incidents—leaving only basic info fields with no details.

We understand that sensitive information such as the names of juveniles arrested, and, in rare instances, information on a specific arrest that may be limited due to an ongoing investigation is protected, Carolyn James, the Freedom of Information committee chair for PCLI, wrote in a letter to the heads of the Public Information Office (PIO) for both departments.

While we understand the concerns, and are more than willing to work with the counties to come up with a viable solution, she wrote, we cannot accept the general policy that this information is not available both comprehensively and regularly upon request as required under the New York State Freedom of Information Law.

James said Inspector Kenneth Lack, commander of the Nassau Police PIO, responded immediately and promised to address the situation with precinct-level crime analysts that compile the localized reports.

Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon, commander of Suffolk’s PIO, met with James recently and shared the department’s concerns that the remarks section of the media MSR included information that may not be subject to FOIL in New York State.

James countered that the department established the MRS reporting system in collaboration with PCLI years ago to ensure press and public access, as required by law, to the narrative in officers’ incident reports‚Äîforms officers fill out describing each case they respond to‚Äîwhen those reports were digitized.

James offered to show Fallon earlier versions of the MSR report while the department revisits the issue. Although Fallon did not immediately commit to restoring the remarks section in the reports, PCLI is confident that an amicable agreement with police will be reached.