The city of Bethlehem has quite a string of bad press lately. From the Supreme court telling the town that their "law" about casino fees was illegal , to an officer charged for exposing himself , to the most recent revelation. The revelation that the town refuses, even under court order, to release records pertaining to the police employed there.
It would seem that the police department has even exempted itself from public scrutiny. They have used many questionable legal moves to make complaints lodged against any officer or the department in general "exempt" from public records requests.
Exempt files are personnel files with personal information in them. Sensitive information like internal evaluations and medical records are not accessible through the Right To Know law. The records being sought are not those types. The records being requested are complaints written by members of the public (at least in my case). This fact has not stopped the Chief of police, along with city lawyers, to refuse access to the records under the clause that exempts personnel files.
Well, this reporter did not take that sitting down. Contributors at Freedom Paradox filed page after page of legal appeals. We ended up winning! The city officials were given a court order to hand over the complaints within 30 days.
The city chose to waste time and money by waiting until Day 28 to file yet another appeal. The appeal process is nearly endless for an entity like city hall. They have endless resources. They are using OUR resources though. Resources combined in a central location for the betterment of the entire town. It was never intended to be resources used against us. I don't believe a single voter in the town would appreciate knowing that the money they work so hard to pay is being squandered away.
We promptly filed an eight page rebuttal to their appeal (linked below). The case now sits in a higher court awaiting scheduling to be heard. Meanwhile, no one has been able to gain access to any police records still. Our local news reports the lewd acts of some cops and we await the lawsuits from any victims... but still we get no records. They have no problem using our money to pay the endless lawsuits though. So, the community is not allowed to evaluate the cops they employ in their own town, but the town officials are fine using the taxpayer money to defend themselves and settle their mistakes. Am I seriously the only person here shocked at the implications here?
The gull of these people gets even better. The city police operate a Facebook page where many have decided to voice their criticisms. The comments range from people calling them "clowns" to outright accusations of theft and corruption. The courts have ruled that such comments are protected under the first amendment. Towns across the country keep missing that memo though. In fact the ACLU has just filed yet another lawsuit against yet another town for this very offense.
They will soon be serving the Bethlehem police with a similar suit. Sadly, BPD has decided that all the negative comments should not be present on their page and began deleting posts and blocking those who wrote them. They even deleted my comment which was served as a legal "cease and desist" order. The comment contained a link to the law they were in violation of. The best part about the arrogance is: since they were served with the order and have continued, the individuals involved can no longer claim ignorance or error.
No, an error was not made at all. I called the department to confront them and was given a message direct from the Public Relations officer running the page. He says "Laws say any public safety posts are not to be deleted. We are free to delete non-relevant comments. They serve no purpose but to spread hate."
Well, the citizens that took the time to express themselves in that forum may feel different. In fact, so may the ACLU.
I know that I don't appreciate being censored. Especially when the one doing the censoring is an employee of the town. An employee sworn to uphold and even DEFEND our rights. No, I don't like that one little bit. My comments weren't even vulgar. They were straight-forward and well put together. I expressed myself in a totally legal and respectful way. That comment and every other against the department was removed. Currently there are three comments remaining which all say "good job."
The city has declared war on our rights.
To read the court documents of our battle to gain access to public records click the links below.
City's Appeal: 20160906-petition-for-review-rtkl-filed
My Response: response92016_final
To contact the police department and tell them your opinion, visit their Facebook.
Or, since they have either banned or deleted all those with a complaint, here is the public phone number for the department: 610-865-7187
We are currently seeking legal remedies against the department. If you have been blocked or had your comments deleted, please let us know as soon as possible via the Contact Us tab or on our Facebook Page.
The officer that runs the Facebook page is Sergeant Michael Ogrodnick.
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