Last week, The Nabe reported that the city’s police precincts would no longer directly provide journalists with the forms detailing crime reports. On Monday, shortly after CUNY Graduate Graduate School of Journalism Dean Stephen B. Shepard sent a letter to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly protesting the change in procedure, the Police Department announced access would be restored.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information John McCarthy, responding to Shepard’s letter within a half-hour of receiving it by email Monday night, said that journalists across the city will still be allowed to view the weekly crime reports in a timely manner – provided they make requests through his office. McCarthy and Deputy Inspector Scott Henderson, commanding officer of the 88th Precinct, in separate exchanges assured The Nabe that requiring a reporter to first check with DCPI would not delay the release of the crime reports that comprise the site’s weekly police blotter.
McCarthy said police officials want to ensure that “confidential information that could jeopardize the safety of a witness or compromise an ongoing investigation” is not released to the media.
He said information withheld also would include the identities of arrested minors, victims under 16, abused or neglected children and sex crime victims. That information already is kept confidential in the 88th Precinct’s dealings with The Nabe.
McCarthy said that this has been the longtime NYPD policy, though many precincts for years have allowed reporters regular access without going through the “chain of command.” Journalists at community news outlets around the city they were told by local precinct officials last week that they would no longer be able to see crime reports.
We hope to post the next blotter on Friday, as usual.
Meanwhile, here is the full text of Shepard’s letter to Kelly:
Dear Commissioner Kelly,
I am writing to urge you to reconsider the recent decision to end journalists’ access to felony crime reports at police precincts across New York City. The new restriction runs counter to the essential concepts of open government, a free press and a fully informed citizenry.
We have greatly appreciated the valuable time extended by 40th and 88th precincts personnel in providing information for the police blotters of our Mott Haven Herald and The Nabe (formerly The Local). Part of the CUNY Journalism School’s mission as a public institution is to serve the people of New York through these publications, as well as through its NYCity News Service, which feeds neighborhood-driven stories to outlets ranging from hyperlocal websites to The New York Times.
This issue, of course, goes far beyond the Journalism School. We also are the home of Voices of NY and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, which serves the interest of the more than 270 community and ethnic publications in the metropolitan region. Editors of many of these publications have told us they are as troubled as we are by this cutoff of crucial, public information.
I am sure you recognize “crime blotter” stories are integral to making citizens more aware of their surroundings – as well as of the NYPD’s efforts in making arrests and keeping our streets safe. News reports generated by the “61s” can help identify trends and lead to tips, serving as a crime prevention tool and means of building a stronger sense of community between a precinct and the people it serves.
Squelching public information at this or any level, especially in the era of social media, runs the unnecessary and potentially dangerous risk spreading of misinformation anytime residents hear a siren or see yellow crime-scene tape.
I strongly urge you to reverse this decision immediately. I look forward to your response, and stand ready to discuss this issue with you.
Stephen B. Shepard