FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Margaret E. Olszewski,
against Docket #FIC 91-154
Chief of Police, Farmington Police Department,
Respondent March 25, 1992
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 26, 1991, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letters dated May 2, 1991 and May 14, 1991, the complainant requested from the respondent copies of all documents, notes, letters and all other related papers taken into consideration during the background investigation conducted by the respondent's department of the complainant's application for police officer. The complainant asked specifically that the respondent include officer's reports from conversations with the Department of Children and Youth Services, ("DCYS"), and State's Attorney, T.R. Paulding, ("prosecutor").
3. By letter dated May 28, 1991, the respondent replied to the complainant's request and denied access to the requested information.
4. On June 10, 1991 the complainant filed her complaint with the Commission appealing the respondent's denial of access to the requested records.
5. It is found that the complainant applied for a position as police officer with the Farmington Police Department,
Docket #FIC 91-154 Page 2
(hereinafter "FPD"), and successfully completed the first three phases of the seven phase hiring process, but was not recommended for further consideration following the fourth phase, the background investigation.
6. It is also found that the FPD conducts background investigations of all officer candidates during which an investigating officer researches the applicant's past employment, criminal record, education and personal references.
7. It is also found that the complainant signed a form drafted by the respondent authorizing the FPD to investigate her background, including her medical, academic, former and present employment records and investigations already conducted by any police department, (hereinafter "release form").
8. It is found that the release form drafted by the respondent does not waive rights granted under the Freedom of Information, ("FOI"), Act.
9. It is therefore found that by signing the release form the complainant did not waive her rights of access under the FOI Act.
10. It is found that the records that are responsive to the complainant's request are records either gathered or compiled during the background investigation and consist of a letter supplied by a previous employer, (hereinafter "reference letter"), and handwritten notes of the respondent and the investigating officer, (hereinafter "notes").
11. It is also found that background investigation files are kept under the respondent's supervision and that access to such records is limited to the respondent, the investigating officer and the respondent's secretary.
12. The respondent maintains that information contained in background investigation records is obtained on a confidential basis, that in many instances third parties refuse to discuss an applicant's qualifications or history unless confidentiality is assured and that release of the information would adversely affect the ability of his department to conduct background investigations.
13. The respondent further maintains that the information contained in the records requested by the complainant is exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(2), G.S., which provides
Docket #FIC 91-154 Page 3
for the nondisclosure of "personnel or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy."
14. The respondent argues that disclosure of the statements provided by third parties would constitute an invasion of personal privacy of the individuals providing the information in violation of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
15. It is found that during the background investigation of the complainant, the investigating officer sent a form letter to the complainant's former employers, asking for information about the complainant's character and work record and indicating that all information provided to the investigating officer would be treated as confidential.
16. It is found that the reference letter described in paragraph 10, above, was provided in response to the investigating officer's form letter.
17. It is also found that the notes described in paragraph 10, above, were taken during background investigation interviews with individuals at DCYS and with the prosecutor, which notes were placed in the complainant's background investigation file.
18. It is concluded that the records requested by the complainant are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.
19. It is found that the records sought by the complainant are contained within a personnel or similar file within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
20. It is found however that the FPD's promise of confidentiality to third parties alone is not a statutory exemption to disclosure of records under the FOI Act.
21. It is also found that under 4-190(9) and 4-193(g), G.S., the complainant has a right to request and receive disclosure of "...all personal data concerning him which is maintained by the [respondent's] agency."
22. It is found that disclosure of the requested records would not constitute an invasion of personal privacy under 1-19(b)(2), G.S., and therefore are subject to disclosure under 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
Docket #FIC 91-154 Page 4
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The respondent shall henceforth strictly comply with the requirements of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
2. In light of the particular facts of this case, the Commission declines in its discretion to order disclosure of the requested records. The Commission cautions however, that henceforth it will not honor a mere promise of confidentiality in the absence of a statutory exemption under the FOI Act.
3. The Commission suggests that the complainant may wish to explore with her attorney the possibility of relief under provisions of the personal data act, pursuant to 4-190, G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of March 25, 1992.
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 91-154 Page 5
PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.
THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:
92 High Path Road
Windsor, CT 06095
Chief of Police
Farmington Police Department
c/o Attorney Elena M. Gervino
Day Berry & Howard
Hartford, CT 06103-3499
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission