12.00.020 RELEASING DEPARTMENT INFORMATION
Employees will not release official information outside the Department except as provided in this manual or as required by law or competent authority. Specifically, information contained in police records, other information ordinarily accessible only to employees, names of informants, complainants, witnesses, victims, or other persons known only to officials, are considered confidential.
The first officers to arrive at the scene of an emergency situation shall quickly determine the scope of the situation in order to make sound decisions. Proper notifications to government agencies, public utilities, and the news media in the event of emergencies, unattended deaths, and major traffic problems are an essential part of the process.
The procedures and criteria for the release of agency records are mandated by RCW 10.97, RCW 42.17, RCW 13.50, and RCW 46.52. Policy for releasing Criminal History Record Information can be found later in this Chapter. All Records personnel will be familiar with these laws and records will be released accordingly.
Release to the Media (CALEA 54.1.1)
Consistent with the Public Disclosure Law (RCW 42.17), the Criminal Records Privacy Act (10.97), laws regarding privileged communications (RCW 5.60.060), and Department procedures and regulations, the Department will take all necessary steps to insure prompt and impartial disclosures of information to the media with the following exceptions:
v When, in the opinion of the Department representative, such release would prejudice the outcome of an investigation. This is not, however, to be used as a device to withhold information from the media that might not be legitimately confidential, critical to the success of an investigation, necessary for the protection of persons, statutorily exempt or privileged.
v When, in the opinion of the Department representative, such release would prejudice the outcome of court proceedings
v When such release is prohibited by law or the information sought is statutorily protected or privileged
v When, in the opinion of the Department, such release would prejudice the safety, rights, and/or privileges of persons identified in investigations
v When such release would be likely to cause public hysteria or panic
v Information which, in the opinion of the PIO or appropriate supervisor, relate to incidents which may or have resulted in a claim against the City or Bellevue or one of its employees. Requests for such information are to be directed to the Police Legal Advisor.
After Criminal Charges have been filed
After a person has been charged with a crime, but before trial, it is appropriate to disclose to the media the following information concerning the defendant:
v The defendant's name, age, residence, employment, marital status, prior criminal convictions and similar background information. There should be no restraint of biographical facts other than accuracy, good taste and judgment.
v The substance or text of the charge (e.g., "Assault I", "Arson II")
v The identity of the investigating and arresting agency and the length of the investigation
v The circumstances immediately surrounding an arrest, including the time and place of arrest, resistance, pursuit, possession and use of weapons, and a description of items seized at the time of arrest. These circumstances can be edited, where necessary, to protect persons requesting nondisclosure.
The identity of the complaining party, or any victim/witness, will be dealt with on a case by case basis. The identity may be released if the complainant victim/witness has not requested confidentiality and/or non-disclosure and has voiced no objection to being identified after being advised of the media inquiry.
Non Disclosure Prior to Trial
Prior to trial, employees will not disclose to the media the following information concerning a defendant:
v Opinions about a defendant's character, guilt or innocence
v Admissions, confessions or the contents of a statement or alibi attributable to a defendant
v References to the results of investigative procedures, such as fingerprints, polygraph examinations, ballistic tests, or laboratory tests
v Statements concerning the credibility of anticipated testimony of prospective witnesses
v Opinions concerning evidence or argument in the case whether or not it is anticipated that such evidence or argument will be used at trial
The media may take photographs of a defendant while in a public place, but a defendant will not be posed by an officer for the benefit of media photographers.
With the permission of a supervisor, officers may release to the media the photograph of a wanted subject to encourage public help in making an apprehension.
All requests by media representatives for Department photographs of a person sought for or charged with the commission of a crime will be directed to the Public Information Officer.
Department photographs of an individual will not be released to the media unless a valid law enforcement function will be served.
Initial crime reports include:
v The case/crime report form, and
v The case data check sheet, and
v Those supplementary reports written by the initial responding officer to explain the circumstances of the incident
Initial Crime Reports do not include:
v Supplementary reports detailing follow-up investigations, or
v Written statements signed by victims, complainants, witnesses or suspects, or
v Affidavits for warrants of arrest/search, or
v Arrest/detention reports
An initial crime report cannot be released to the media without the authorization of the Records Supervisor, Acting Records Supervisor, or the PIO.
Before authorizing release of an initial crime report to the media, the Records Supervisor or Acting Records Supervisor will:
v Ascertain whether the report is precluded from disclosure; if not,
v Verify that the report includes only those documents identified above.
v Edit as necessary, notifying PIO of release
v Note date, time, and fact of release in case file.
Response to Media when Crime Reports are Unavailable
Employees will respond to media inquiries in a courteous, professional manner. If an employee is confronted with questions or probes of a confidential nature, the matter will be referred to a supervisor
If a news release has been prepared, it may be immediately released to media representatives. If further information is requested, the media representative should be referred to the Watch Commander or the senior Patrol or Traffic supervisor on duty, dependent upon the type of incident.
When a news release is not yet available, the media representative should be informed of the type of incident and the general location (i.e., assault in Somerset, car prowl in Eastgate, malicious mischief in Crossroads). If further information is requested, the media representative should be referred to the PIO or, in the PIO's absence, the Watch Commander or the senior Patrol or Traffic supervisor on duty, dependent upon the type of incident.
Inquiries by members of the media for information contained in the Daily Recap are to be screened by the on-duty Records Supervisor, keeping in mind that the Recap is not a public record and that it may contain information which could prejudice the rights and/or privileges of persons identified herein.
Media Access to Incidents (CALEA 54.1.3)
Entrance to any area wherein evidence could be destroyed or compromised will be denied temporarily to members of the media.
Media entry will be expedited if and after the evidence is protected and media entry will not interfere with the investigation.
If the incident takes place on private property, members of the media are not allowed access except with the approval of the owner.
Members of the media must establish their identification as bona fide representatives of one or more of the following public news services:
v Radio – Television
v Wire Service
If a long-term investigation is involved, the Commanding Officer may, at his/her discretion, give consideration to arranging a guided tour for the members of the media, if there are no known hazards.
Members of the media should be alerted to any known hazards at the incident location and be advised that they will be responsible for their own safety in all cases.
In incidents where a perimeter has been established, such as barricaded person, a major fire, or a natural disaster, access by media will be at the direction of the on-scene Commander. In no case will access be allowed if it compromises the safety of personnel.
The Department and the City of Bellevue accept no responsibility for media use or publication of information disclosed by the Department. Members of the media bear all responsibility for its proper publication to avoid unnecessary harm or embarrassment to victims or other innocent parties.
Ongoing Criminal Investigations
Any release of information to the news media regarding an ongoing criminal investigation, an unusual occurrence, or a confidential agency investigation/operation will be coordinated through the PIO.
The authorization to release such information will be made only after being reviewed by the Chief of Police and the concurrence of the Police Legal Advisor.