The New York Police Department will no longer allow local precincts to release to the media information about crime in communities they serve. Taking the place of that long-standing practice is a new one: talk to the PR guys at headquarters.
News website DNAinfo New York reports that “the city’s 77 police precincts [are] to stop giving out any information to the media about crimes taking place in their neighborhoods, cutting off a long-standing source of information for New Yorkers.”
According to a terse NYPD edict transmitted citywide, precinct commanders were instructed: “Any requests by media to view complaint reports be referred to the office of the Deputy Commissioner For Public Information.”
The NYPD’s public information office, known as DCPI, typically disseminates only select major crimes such as murders, sexual assaults and grand larcenies, but often does not include lower level neighborhood crimes. Those complaints could traditionally be found at the precinct, a reliable source for information of interest for residents.
To the frustration of cop-beat reporters in many towns across the country, this sort of thing is common among police departments whose commissioners, chiefs and sheriffs figured out long ago that the best way to maintain narrative control of raw information is to launder it through a bottleneck public relations official. In smaller cities, reporters often put up with it, because they typically have the cell phone number of the local police chief or county sheriff, and can develop a personal rapport that keeps them in the know about what’s going on – even if the real version of events never makes it into print.
But in a city the size of New York, siphoning all information through a centralized bureaucracy effectively ends street-level crime reporting, because the time required to get a statement is too great to serve a newspaper or web site’s interest. And, the quality of that statement will almost certainly veer toward that of a sanitized press release – or good-cop propaganda.
Outgoing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has a history of pushing even the city’s major media providers to the margins when it comes to access of information. “Under his stewardship, DCPI has systematically diminished the type of information it provides as well as overall access to department personnel,” reports DNAinfo, which has already had its precinct access revoked, along with other outlets. “The clampdown evolved even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a media mogul, pledged that his administration would be a beacon of open government and transparency.”