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Huckleberries Online

Whitecaps: Top Cops Need Good Press Relations

re: Spokane police withholding records from the SR because acting chief Jim Nicks is angry at the newspaper.

“I am continually amazed by how many otherwise competent police chiefs and sheriffs have failed to take the time to learn about and really understand the role and critical importance of a free press in the United States. After being selected as chief or elected as sheriff, one of the first things that executive ought to do is personally meet with editors, publishers, news directors, and station managers to discuss issues that are sure to arise. These meetings need to be regular, though not necessarily frequent, to establish good lines of communications leading to mutual understanding, trust, and respect. The press is one very important link between the department and the public it serves. News stories, carefully and professionally prepared and delivered, can tell a chief or a sheriff a great deal about how his clients (the community) perceive his agency. The stories are feedback to the chief or sheriff. When the filing of Public Record Law requests becomes a news story itself because of their increasing frequency dictated by necessity (read: unnecessary secrecy and departmental stonewalling), it’s time for a chief or sheriff or any other public administrator to ask if his agency is engaging in unnecessary and even illegal secrecy. News professionals will understand that some investigative information can not and must not be released as quickly as other information can be. Law enforcement professionals must understand that most responsible reporters (and their bosses) will honor caveats such as on the record, off the record, background, and deep background. However, understanding each other’s operating procedures and ground rules is absolutely essential to avoid major blow-ups between law enforcement and the press. The only way to do that is through face-to-face discussions and developing a mutual respect for the challenges of each other’s job. It has worked in local to national agencies, and it can work in Spokane, Spokane County, Coeur d’Alene, and Kootenai County.”

Bill McCrory/Whitecaps

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About this blog

D.F. Oliveria is a columnist and blogger for The Spokesman-Review. Print Huckleberries is a past winner of the Herb Caen Memorial Column contest by the National Association of Newspaper Columnists. The Readership Institute of Northwestern University cited this blog as a good example of online community journalism.

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