Restaino Defends Police Report Policy on Privacy Grounds; Decries Those Seeking Information for “Ratings” or “Clicks”

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Niagara Falls City Hall

 

By: Staff Reporter

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert M. Restaino released the following statement on Tuesday, January 26th, 2021, defending his administration’s decision to no longer allow the dissemination of police reports without a FOIA request. The full statement can be found below:

 

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert M. Restaino

Often decisions in government, at all levels, require a balancing of competing interests each having merit, but also having divergent or, sometimes, colliding realities. Unfortunately, as happens often these days, one side or the other takes their “position” to the “public” in an effort to apply pressure to get what they want, without any thought given to the potential for problems, as they advance their position in a “my way or the highway” diatribe.

While our administration values deeply the right of our residents to know what is happening in our community, we also value and respect the right of privacy to which our residents are also entitled. We agree with the NYS Legislature that “… a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions”. It is also the position of our administration “… to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible”. In addition, our administration strongly believes that private residents, particularly those that may have been a victim of an offense against the law, are entitled to the protection of their personal and private information. This is supported and codified in our state laws. Finally, our administration also believes “… people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review documents… is basic to our society”.

So how do we balance these competing principles, how can local government provide access while protecting personal privacy, particularly in cases involving victims of offenses against the law? While this may seem to be an intractable and difficult problem to solve, it really isn’t. The quotes in this article are from the NYS Public Officers Law section 84, which is the declaration which precedes the NYS Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The NYS Legislature has provided a finely tuned process to achieve the competing needs expressed in this article. The NYS FOIL carefully balances and provides for a methodology to accomplish both tasks without having each local government develop its own system—a process that would be fraught with all manner of uneven applications. Even the NYS Committee on Open Government examines all inquiries against compliance with the NYS FOIL requirements and their opinions routinely refer inquirers to the sections of that statute.

Our administration will continue to uphold the fair and thoughtful process developed by NYS to address these delicate questions. We can’t succumb to the complaints of fringe media that don’t think process and the law matter. Haven’t we seen enough of that already earlier this year? Our administration continues to promote the open access to government and will resist attempts by media outlets that care little for victim’s rights and only worry about ratings, selling newspapers, or “clicks” on their site. If the process as laid out by the NYS Legislature is utilized, we will respond accordingly within our statutory responsibility. If a desire to develop a process that balances these interests can be achieved our administration is ready to have the discussion.

Your right to know and your right to privacy are important to our administration, we will continue to serve and protect both.

 


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