1.110 - Public Information

Effective Date: 08/01/2017

1.110-POL-1 General Policy

1. “Media” Refers to all Reporters, Photographers, Camera Operators and Others Who are Directly Employed by Agencies of the Media and Who Hold Valid News Media Identification

Entities related to media outlets, such as CrimeStoppers, are considered related outlets for purposes of this policy.

2. Except as May Otherwise Be Authorized by the Chief of Police or His or Her Designee, Employees Shall Not Release Information to the Media or Related Outlets Other Than as Prescribed by This Policy

Exception:  The release of information responsive to a Public Disclosure Act Request or records subpoena shall be coordinated through the Legal Unit. 

3. Public Affairs Unit Promotes Effective Relations Between the Media and the Department

The Public Affairs Unit shall promote effective relations between the news media and the Department by:

- Assisting the media in covering news stories at the scene of police operations

- Preparing and distributing news releases

- Arranging for, and assisting at, news conferences

- Coordinating and authorizing the release of information

- Coordinating the release of information with other public service agencies

The general function of the Public Affairs Unit shall include but not necessarily be limited to:

- Assisting news personnel in covering news stories at the scenes of incidents

- Distributing public safety information via social media channels

- Being available for on-call responses to the news media

- Preparing and distributing agency news releases

- Arranging for and assisting at news conferences

- Coordinating and authorizing the release of information about victims, witnesses, and suspects

- Assisting in crisis situations within the agency

- Coordinating and authorizing the release of information concerning agency investigations and operations

- Developing procedures for releasing information when other public service agencies are involved in a mutual effort

4. Public Information Officers (PIO) Work in the Public Affairs Unit and Act as the Representatives of the Chief of Police to the Media

5. Only Specific Personnel are Authorized to Give a Statement to the Media

Non-authorized personnel shall not provide any substantive information to the media.

When the media requests an interview with an on-duty employee, officers shall refer media representatives to a PIO or the on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant.

At incidents where the media is on-scene and a PIO is not available, the precinct-of-occurrence watch lieutenant or someone designated by the on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant will speak to the media as the Department representative.

When the media does not respond to the scene but then contacts a Department employee when there is not a PIO on-duty, the employee shall instruct the media to call the Communication Section at (206) 684-8640. 

The Chief Dispatcher will page the on-call PIO in the event of a critical incident. The on-call PIO will communicate directly with news outlets regarding non-urgent matters as needed.

6. Chief of Police, or Designee, Is the Only Person Authorized to Speak to the Media Regarding Department Budget Issues, Department Goals, Allocation of Resources and the Interpretation of Department Policy

7. Department Employees Will Notify the Public Affairs Unit of All Requests for Interviews Prior to Speaking With the Media

If a time constraint exists, the Chief Dispatcher will page the on-call PIO to screen the incident.

8. Primary Officer Will Notify His or Her Immediate Supervisor When Responding to an Incident That is Likely to Produce a Media Response or When Notification of the Public Affairs Unit is Required by Department Policy

If the incident is an in-progress police operation, the on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant will contact the Communications Section and request that a PIO respond to the scene. The watch lieutenant at the precinct-of-occurrence will act as the Department media representative if a PIO does not respond.

9. When an Incident Produces a Media Response, or is Likely to Produce a Media Inquiry, the Primary Officer’s Sergeant Will Send a Notification to the Public Affairs Unit E-mail Account

The Public Affairs Unit e-mail account is SPDNews@Seattle.gov.

10. Interaction with the Media

- Department employees will cooperate with representatives of the media in a courteous and professional manner, providing only accurate, objective and factual responses.

- Speak about the facts as you know them. Do not speculate or editorialize. If you do not know the answer to a question, refer the media person to someone who has that information or tell them that you will attempt to get the information and get back to them.

- Take time in answering questions and give a thoughtful response.

- Do not make off-the-record statements to the media. The media is under no obligation to keep your statement off the record.

- Department employees should contact the Public Affairs Unit with any complaint they have about an interaction with the media.

11. At Active Crime Scenes and Other Serious Incidents, the Media are Not Permitted Past the Marked Perimeter

The on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant shall establish a location near the scene as a media staging area as soon as practical and advise the media if a PIO is responding and his or her estimated time of arrival.

The on-scene captain, permanent-rank lieutenant or supervising investigator will determine if the media will be allowed to cross the perimeter and set limitations on their movements until the scene has been secured. Once the scene is secured, and the criminal investigation is complete, the media will be given access to the location.

The media will be allowed in any area that is open to the public. The media cannot enter private property without the owner’s permission.

a. Media Will Not Be Restricted From Entering a Disaster Area Unless the Media’s Presence Interferes With a Police Operation

The on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant may declare a disaster area a crime scene if he or she believes the disaster occurred due to criminal action.

12. On-Scene Captain or Permanent-Rank Lieutenant Will Request That Media Aircraft Be Restricted Around the Location of a Police Operation When the Presence of the Aircraft Compromises Officer Safety or Hinders the Operation

The on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant will inform the PIO of the reasons for the aircraft restriction. The PIO will contact the appropriate news agency and request that they voluntarily remove the aircraft. In the event that a PIO is not at the scene, the on-scene captain or permanent-rank lieutenant will have the Chief Dispatcher make the request.

If the news agency does not voluntarily move their aircraft out of the area of the police operation, the PIO, Incident Commander or Chief Dispatcher will contact the Federal Aviation Administration and request that the airspace above the incident be cleared.

13. On-Scene Captain or Permanent-Rank Lieutenant May Request the Assistance of Media Aircraft for Viewing the Incident, Coordinating the Operation, Photographing the Incident and Transporting Employees for Tactical or Operational Purposes

14. Department Employees Will Neither Prevent nor Facilitate the Photographing of Defendants or Suspects in Custody

15. Public Affairs Unit Shall Coordinate Requests for Media Ride-Alongs

The Public Affairs Unit will ensure that the precinct/unit hosting the media representative complete and sign a Civilian Observer Ride Request and Waiver (form 7.11).

During the ride-along, the media representative will not be allowed to use any image-recording device or audio recorder without the prior approval of the Chief of Police.

1.110-POL-2 Release of Information to the Media

1. Chief of Police or a Deputy Chief Will Screen the Information That Will Be Released to the Media in an Officer-Involved Shooting or Where a Serious Injury or Death of a Person Occurs as a Result of Police Activity

2. The Department Will Generally Release Information to the Media in a Timely Manner

The Public Affairs Unit will be the conduit for releasing information to the media. Public Affairs will coordinate with follow-up units when applicable to verify the case status and ensure that information released will not compromise an on-going investigation or pending prosecution. Information that is publicly available will be released as needed.

For information regarding the release of information related to an officer-involved shooting, see Manual Section 1.115-Media Release: Officer-Involved Shooting.

 

a. Public Affairs Unit Will Release Information to CrimeStoppers and Other Media Outlets

All media outlets have equal access to Department information once it has been deemed acceptable for release.

3. There is Certain Information That Can Generally Be Released to the Media

- The facts regarding an incident that may include:

- A basic description of the incident

- How the incident came to police attention

- What time the police responded to the call

- How many officers are currently assigned to the call

- The number of suspects and victims involved in the incident

- Adult suspects charged with a crime:

- Suspect’s name, age, gender, race and city of residence

- Charge filed by the prosecutor

- Arresting/investigating unit

- Circumstances of the arrest

- Adult suspects who have been arrested and booked into jail or cited but not charged with a crime:

- Suspect’s name, age, gender, race and city of residence

- Alleged offense

- Arresting/investigating unit

- Circumstances of the arrest

- Adult suspects who have been arrested, not booked into jail or cited, and have not been charged with a crime:

- Age, gender, race and city of residence

- Investigating/arresting agency

- Medical condition of a suspect/victim:

- Readily observed information regarding medical conditions may be released. Detailed medical information, diagnosis or prognosis will not be released.

- Deceased persons:

- Only the age, gender, race and city of residence of the deceased person may be released. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office will be responsible for releasing the identification of the deceased person.

4. Information Pertaining to Juveniles, Their Parents, or Legal Guardians Will Not Be Released

This applies whether the juvenile is reported as a suspect, witness, victim, missing person, runaway or person of interest.

Information identifying child victims under age eighteen who are victims of sexual assault is confidential and not subject to release to the press or public.

Photographs of juveniles will not be released to the media without a court order or the consent of the juvenile’s parent or guardian.

5. Certain Information Will Generally Not Be Released to the Media Unless Authorized by the Chief of Police or Designee

- Statements about a suspect or defendant’s:

- Character, criminal record, or reputation in the community

- Guilt, innocence or possible outcome of pending legal proceedings

- The existence or content of any admission, confession or alibi

- Statements or opinions regarding a defendant’s willingness or refusal to make a statement

- The results of evidentiary examinations or forensic tests involving a pending case

- The anticipated testimony or credibility of any prospective victim or witness

- Statements or opinions concerning evidence, or legal arguments, to be used in a pending case

- Information regarding bombings, bomb threats, kidnappings or kidnapping threats, unless authorized by the Captain or Lieutenant of the Violent Crimes Investigations Section

- Any information disclosing the identity of a confidential source

- Identification information related to the victim of a sexual assault

6. Information on Vehicle or Boating Collisions Will Be Restricted to the Narrative Portion of the Report and Must Be Requested Through the Public Affairs Unit

The names, license numbers or registration numbers of the persons and vehicles involved in the collision will not be released.

7. Booking Photo or an Investigative File Photo of a Suspect Wanted for a Serious Crime May Be Released to the Media if It Will Assist in the Capture of the Suspect or Warn the Public if the Suspect is a Danger to the Community

Authorization to release the photograph must come from the unit investigating the crime.

8. Photographs of Level III Sex Offenders May Be Released to the Media and the Public

9. Home Address, Telephone Number, or Date of Birth of Any Department Employee Will Not Be Released Without the Employee’s Expressed Consent

The release of immediate on-scene information of the involved employee will be confined to the employee’s age, race, gender, rank, tenure and bureau of assignment.

10. Media Representatives May Obtain Copies of Police Reports Through the Public Affairs Unit