Inquiring minds MUST know and I am as guilty as the rest of you. The old adage, “If it bleeds it leads” certainly rings true on tv news and now the internet. It is therefore no surprise that in July of 1985, the VA Police Department created the Public Information office (PIO) to attempt to manage what info gets released to the general public. The department has 2 full time people and 3 alternates on staff to give us what we want.
Our class was led by MPO Adam Bernstein from the PIO – yep, he’s the guy who appears very tall on tv and although a police officer, he’s allowed to wear a suit if he so desires. This one is also married for my single friends out there.
There’s a full time job for dealing with the media??? Absolutely. These individuals, primarily Bernstein and his partner Margie Hobbs, are responsible for not only reviewing any newsworthy activity of the department but they keep Chief Jacock in the know, prepare news releases, arrange press conferences and provide media training to police officers.
I wonder if they have a class on how to avoid a sucker punch of Geraldo Rivera or ways to get Nancy Grace to just ZIP IT?
Each afternoon, all three of the main local television stations call in to get an update from Bernstein or Hobbs about what’s going on whether it be hard news or just a public interest story.
Low and behold, I have a crazy story! My friend Sam confided to me that a couple of years ago, she stopped traffic near First Colonial so a mother and her ducklings could safely cross the road. She didn’t realize that it happened to be 5pm and there was a Wavy 10 helicopter overhead. The police officer warned her to never pull a stunt like that again and thanks to the media presence, she avoided a ticket. Shew! Yes, mother and ducks are fine.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
While all suspects have a constitutional right to their day in court, the Freedom of Information Act requires that certain information be made available to the public when a person is charged with an offense such as the date, time, location and general summary of the incident as well as the name(s) of any person charged (not juvies) and their subsequent mug shots.
Conversely, the Privacy Protection Act states that by law the Department is prohibited from releasing the following:
- one’s criminal history*;
- identity of juvenile;
- identity of sexual assault victims;
- identity of domestic violence victims
*While the department cannot include details about a suspect’s criminal history, there is no law to prohibit a reporter from looking it up on their own!
That being said, how was Florida able to quickly show the face and reveal the name of the 15 yr old psycho who kicked the girl at the bus stop within inches of her life? According to Bernstein, the Sunshine State has a vastly different perspective. In the state of Florida, you can read the actual police report of any incident even if the person is never officially charged by the courts AND there is quite a bit of gray when it comes to juveniles.
An excerpt from the FL Media Guidelines:
Chapter 985.04, Florida Statutes, prohibits access to juvenile offender information. However, the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice or designee may allow access to juvenile offender information when it is determined there is sufficient reason to do so.
Pretty vague huh?
Tomorrow’s blog should be able dead people but TONIGHT, I’m hitting the town and hope I’m allowed to tweet through the night!