On Monday, media organizations immediately protested a change in policy at the New York City Police Department, which would have ended the practice of allowing individual precincts to release incident reports to the media, forcing reporters to obtain public information only from the department's central media office at headquarters. RTDNA joined with the New York Press Club in its protest to NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly over the decision. Past practice had allowed each precinct to report details of crimes and incidents in their own precincts, with the central media office handling information related to major crimes only.
In a meeting with Press Club President Larry Seary on Tuesday, Deputy Commissioner of Public Information John McCarthy clarified that journalists would still be able to get reports at the precinct level, but said reporters must first inform the central media office by telephone or email before arriving at an individual police station, giving the central office time to alert the precinct that a journalist would be requesting the information.
According to an update on the press club website, McCarthy said the procedure is not new, and a recent letter to precinct commanders was to remind them of existing policy, saying he wanted to assure that no confidential personal information is inadvertently released, such as the identities of crime victims, minors or witnesses.
Seary said he feels the matter is resolved, provided the implementation of the policy causes no delay in releasing information. "This is important not as much to the New York Times as it is to the smaller weekly papers and bloggers," said Seary. "I'm giving the Deputy Commissioner the benefit of the doubt that he just wanted it standardized throughout the city. It was done haphazardly before."
On January 1, 2014, Commissioner Kelly will be leaving office when the new NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio takes office. He will be replaced by Bill Bratton, who will be making his second tour of duty as NYC Police Commissioner.
Below is Seary's letter to the Commissioner, sent earlier this week:
1636 Third Avenue (Box 188)
New York NY 1012
Serving New York's Journalists since 1948
Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
New York City Police Department
One Police Plaza
New York, NY 10038
Dear Commissioner Kelly:
On behalf of the New York Press Club, I strongly protest NYPD's latest decision to cut-off a long-standing source of information, vital to New Yorkers.
The policy change to deny media access to complaint reports at the precinct level is, to us, another example of blatant hostility by NYPD toward locally-based media outlets that disseminate information about neighborhood occurrences to residents of those neighborhoods. We are stumped by the question of why NYPD now requires community reporters to scurry down to the notoriously uncommunicative and uncooperative DCPI office to examine incident reports that originate locally. One inescapable conclusion about the new policy is that NYPD wishes to "edit" or otherwise obfuscate the information in question. At the very least, the policy unnecessarily complicates public access to information and data that should instead be freely available.
This new restriction on openness and accessibility is, in our opinion, another disturbing example of the department's recent, relentless slide towards non-accountability. We therefore request restoration of the previous, long-standing policy and its expansion to all precincts. We also request, for publication, an explanation of the reasoning behind NYPD's latest decision to constrict access.