Attorney: Flow of crime information ‘odd’

Photo: Joe Rondone, Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee Democrat by Karl Etters

August 5, 2017

Tallahassee’s practice of sending crime reports to City Hall for vetting before releasing information to the public is an unusual one, media law attorneys say.

And it remains unclear whether anyone else — including city commissioners — get a head’s up before the community is informed.

The practice, which is not commonplace in other metro areas around the state, was detailed last month by the Tallahassee Democrat.

Before news releases are distributed to the public by the Tallahassee Police Department’s Public Information Office, Police Chief Michael DeLeo must first run the information by his immediate supervisor, Assistant City Manager Cynthia Barber, who oversees public safety. She sometimes then forwards the draft news releases to City Manager Rick Fernandez for approval.

Since first reporting on the issue, city officials have not answered inquiries to determine when the practice began, whether there is a written policy directing the flow of crime information and who is privy to those details before the public.

Last week, DeLeo said sending the information to City Hall is an additional step to ensure it is checked and so typos and other grammatical issues may be caught. Nothing has ever been changed by city officials, he said.

In an email statement responding to a series of questions, Fernandez said public safety is the most important function of government that he, the commission and DeLeo have worked to bolster over the past two years.

“In addition to adopting the community oriented policing model, adding new officers and technological upgrades, our efforts have been focused on ensuring that citizens are engaged and informed,” Fernandez wrote. “Chief DeLeo does an excellent job of providing accurate, timely information to the public both directly through email and social media and indirectly through the media.”

Fernandez added it is common practice for all city departments to send news releases to their superiors for approval.

The review of police news releases by city officials is not something Tampa media law attorney Mark Caramanica has ever run across. Having City Hall address typos or misspellings is out of the ordinary, he said.

“It strikes me as a bit odd that it would go through an extra layer of review when the police department would be more positioned to determine the contents of that release,” he said. “That’s something that you wouldn’t need city hall to do.”

A review of other Florida police departments including Gainesville, Orlando and Panama City Beach found they act autonomously in releasing public information. [READ MORE]

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