Last week we reported that the identities of two people who died in South Burlington were being kept from the public by the South Burlington Police Department.
Still, we haven’t received the information we requested.
Someone on White Street died Aug. 11. Police refused to give us the name, claiming they didn’t want to “re-traumatize” the person’s family.
As admirable as this sounds, police don’t get to make that call. The information is public record and, when asked, must be provided. And, the public has the right to know. There are very good reasons for that, especially in a small, tight-knit community. The death of anyone is a noteworthy occurrence.
No one deserves to die in complete anonymity.
A person who has died no longer has privacy to protect. No one is asking for their bank or health records — we simply want to know who they are.
On Aug. 14, a 63-year-old person died, this time on Farrell Street.
No foul play was suspected in either case, according to Police Chief Shawn Burke.
So why, then, can’t the public know who they are? There’s been no talk of ongoing investigation. If these were, in fact, natural deaths, there is no reason for this secrecy to drag on.
South Burlington Police Department is trying to hide behind a policy that allows officials to withhold information about deaths when there is “no public interest.” But the city’s own policy defines “public interest” as “any event or incident which impacts or concerns public safety, public officials, or public places.”
Police officers, from the chief on down, are, indeed public officials. That’s something worth remembering, especially in 2020.
In the many exchanges with Burke and City Attorney Andrew Bolduc our inquiries have been stonewalled.
We implore our public officials to uphold public records laws and to understand their own policies in doing so.
An editorial is the opinion of the newspaper’s top management.