General Policy Information
Latest Revision Date: 5/21/2014
Title 1 - Department Administration
Title 2 - Department Employment
Title 3 - Employee Welfare
Title 4 - Human Resources
Title 5 - Employee Conduct
Title 6 - Arrests, Search and Seizure
Title 7 - Evidence and Property
Title 8 - Use of Force
Title 9 - Equipment and Uniforms
Title 10 - Police Facilities & Security
Title 11 - Detainee Management
Title 12 - Department Information Systems
Title 13 - Vehicle Operations
Title 14 - Emergency Operations
Title 15 - Primary Investigation
Title 16 - Patrol Operations
Effective Date: 3/21/2012
The Seattle Police Department believes that proactive media relations are vital to our law enforcement mission. While employees of the Seattle Police Department are encouraged to work and speak to the media the Department requires that employees provide only accurate, objective, and factual responses to media inquires.
Information that is reasonably believed to compromise an on-going investigation or pending prosecution will not be released to the media.
A. Media: 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.
B. Public Affairs Unit: The Public Affairs Unit shall promote effective relations between the news media and the Seattle Police Department by:
1. Assisting the media cover news stories at the scene of police operations.
2. Preparing and distributing news releases.
3. Arranging for, and assisting at, news conferences.
4. Coordinating and authorizing the release of information.
5. Coordinating the release of information with other public service agencies.
A. Public Information Officer (PIO): The Public Information Officer works in the Public Affairs Unit and acts as the representative of the Chief of Police to the media. PIO’s will be available for on-call responses to the media.
B. on-scene Captain or Lieutenant: For the purpose of this section an on-scene Captain or Lieutenant will be a person with the permanent rank of Lieutenant or above.
II. Public Affairs Unit function
A. The general function of the Public Affairs Unit shall include but are not necessarily limited to:
1. Assisting news personnel in covering news stories at the scenes of incidents;
2. Being available for on-call responses to the news media;
3. Preparing and distributing agency news releases;
4. Arranging for and assisting at news conferences;
5. Coordinating and authorizing the release of information about victims, witnesses, and suspects;
6. Assisting in crisis situations within the agency;
7. Coordinating and authorizing the release of information concerning confidential agency investigations and operations;
8. Developing procedures for releasing information when other public service agencies are involved in a mutual effort.
III. Personnel authorized to speak to the media
A. In most situations when the media is requesting an interview from an on-duty employee, media representatives will be referred to a PIO or the on-scene Captain or Lieutenant.
B. 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 Lieutenant will speak to the media as the department representative.
C. In the event the media does not respond to a scene of a police operation but still contacts Department employees requesting information, and a PIO is unavailable, media will be instructed to call the business number of the Communication Section at 206/684-8640. The Communications Section shift supervisor will get the basic information and a call back number from the media representative. The Communications Section supervisor or Chief Dispatcher will contact an on-duty Watch Lieutenant at the precinct of occurrence and provide the details of the media inquiry and the call back number. The Watch Lieutenant will call back the media representative as soon as possible with a response. This procedure will primarily be utilized between 2200-0700 hrs., Monday-Friday, weekends and holidays.
D. The Chief of Police, or designated representative, will be the only person authorized to speak to the media regarding Department budget issues, Department goals, allocation of resources and the interpretation of Department policies.
E. 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.
IV. Notification of the Public Affairs Unit
A. A Department employee will notify their immediate supervisor when they respond to an incident that is likely to produce a media response or when notification of the Public Affairs Unit is required by Department policy.
B. If the incident is an in-progress police operation the on-scene Captain or 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.
C. When incidents produce a media response or are likely to produce a media inquiry, the primary officer will send a VMAIL containing the General Offense Number to the Public Affairs Unit.
V. Interaction with the Media
A. Department employees will cooperate with representatives of the media in a courteous and professional manner.
B. 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.
C. Take time in answering questions and give a thoughtful response.
D. Do not make off the record statements to the media. The media is under no obligation to keep your statement off the record.
E. Department employees should contact the Public Affairs Unit with any complaint they have about an interaction with the media.
VI. Crime Scene/Serious Incident
A. When police respond to a crime scene or serious incident an outer perimeter marked with crime scene tape will be set up as soon as it is safe to do so (Seattle Police Manual Section 14.060 - Serious Incident Plan). The media will not be allowed to move past this marked perimeter.
B. The on-scene Captain or Lieutenant should 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 their estimated time of arrival.
C. The on-scene Captain or 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.
D. 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.
E. The 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 Lieutenant may declare a disaster area a crime scene if they believe the disaster occurred due to criminal action.
VII. Release of information to the media
A. The 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.
B. The following information can generally be released to the media.
1. The facts regarding an incident that may include:
a. A basic description of the incident.
b. How the incident came to police attention.
c. What time the police responded to the call.
d. How many officers are currently assigned to the call.
e. The number of suspects and victims involved in the incident.
2. Adult suspects charged with a crime.
a. Suspect’s name, age, gender, race and city of residence.
b. Charge filed by the prosecutor.
c. Arresting/Investigating Unit.
d. Circumstances of the arrest.
3. Adult suspects who have been arrested and booked into jail or cited but not charged with a crime.
a. Suspect’s name, age, gender, race and city of residence.
b. Alleged offense.
c. Arresting/Investigating Unit.
d. Circumstances of the arrest.
4. Adult suspects who have been arrested, not booked into jail or cited, and have not been charged with a crime.
a. Age, gender, race and city of residence.
b. Investigating/arresting agency.
a. 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.
6. Victim/Witness/Complainant Disclosure
a. Officers and detectives shall affirmatively ask victims, witnesses and complainants if they wish to have their personal information protected. Per RCW 42.56.240, any victim, witness or complainant can decide, at the time of reporting, about the disclosure of their personal information. This decision, made by the individual, supersedes any disclosure requests made by another person for information.
b. Any victim, witness or complainant who does not explicitly indicate a preference for non-disclosure of their personal information to the general public is subject to potential full disclosure by the Department.
7. Medical condition of a suspect/victim
a. Readily observed information regarding medical conditions may be released. Detailed medical information, diagnosis or prognosis will not be released.
8. Deceased Persons
a. 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.
VIII. Restricted Information
A. 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.
B. The listed information will generally not be released to the media unless it is authorized by the Chief of Police or their designated representative.
1. Statements about a suspect or defendant’s:
a. Character, criminal record, or reputation in the community.
b. Guilt, innocence or possible outcome of pending legal proceedings.
c. The existence or content of any admission, confession or alibi.
d. Statements or opinions regarding a defendant’s willingness or refusal to make a statement.
2. The results of evidentiary examinations or forensic tests involving a pending case.
3. The anticipated testimony or credibility of any prospective victim or witness.
4. Statements or opinions concerning evidence, or legal arguments, to be used in a pending case.
5. Information regarding bombings, bomb threats, kidnappings or kidnapping threats, unless authorized by the Captain or Lieutenant of the Violent Crimes Investigations Section.
6. Any information disclosing the identity of a confidential source.
7. Information on vehicle or boating accidents will be restricted to the narrative portion of the report and must be requested through the Public Affairs Unit. The names, license numbers or registrations numbers of the persons and vehicles involved in the accident will not be released.
IX. Release of photographs
A. Photographs of juveniles will not be released to the media without a court order or the consent of the juvenile’s parent or guardian.
B. The 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.
C. Photographs of Level III sex offenders may be released to the media and the public.
D. Department employees will neither prevent nor facilitate the photographing of defendants or suspects in custody.
X. Information of Department personnel
A. The home address, telephone number, or date of birth of any Department employee will not be released without the employee’s expressed consent.
B. 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.
XI. Media Aircraft
A. on-scene Captain or Lieutenants 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.
B. The on-scene Captain or 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 Lieutenant will have the Chief Dispatcher make the request.
C. 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.
D. The on-scene Captain or Lieutenant may request the assistance of media aircraft for viewing the incident, coordinating the operation, photographing the incident and transporting department employees to remote locations for tactical or operational purposes.
XII. Media Observer Program
A. The Public Affairs Unit shall coordinate requests for media ride-alongs.
1. The Public Affairs Unit will have the media representative complete and sign a Citizen-Observer rider request and waiver (form 7.11). The Public Affairs Unit will complete the necessary background check prior to approval of the ride-along.
2. 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.
XIII. Release of reports
A. A board containing copies of reports prepared for the media will be maintained at all precincts and will be readily available for viewing by the media and the public.
B. Media representatives may obtain copies of police reports through the Public Affairs Unit.