Police accountability watchdog recommends changes to Sheriff’s Office of Public Information Policy
information from King County
A report presented today by the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) calls for policy changes related to how the King County Sheriff’s Office presents information to the public after an officer-involved shooting.
In response to the public’s outcry for increased transparency, OLEO partnered with the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information – a national source of research, expertise and advocacy about the law of gathering and disseminating news – to produce the report.
“What appears in the press about an incident has a profound impact on the public’s perception of an incident, as well as on the loved ones of anyone harmed during an interaction with police,” said Deborah Jacobs, OLEO Director. “It’s important that the Sheriff’s Office have policies that build trust and legitimacy with communities by ensuring communications originating from their office are accurate, timely, and respectful.”
OLEO released the report, Transparency and Media Relations in High Profile Police Cases, during a briefing of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Law and Justice Committee. It recommends proactive accountability measures for when the Sheriff’s Office communicates with the press and the public following police shootings and other critical incidents, including:
·Protocol for timely notification of families following critical incidents;
·Requirements to rapidly, publicly, and transparently acknowledge and correct inaccurate or misleading information with an explanation as to how the misinformation occurred;
·Releasing the decedent’s criminal history only when requested or other criteria is met;
·Ensuring efforts be made to convey information to ethnic media serving non-English-speaking populations;
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to work cooperatively with a forward-thinking law enforcement agency on formulating a set of best practices that will minimize friction in interactions with journalists in high-pressure situations,” said Frank LoMonte, Director of the Brechner Center at Florida. “When a newsworthy event occurs, people are bombarded with rumor and speculation on social media. Pushing out reliable information promptly, and keeping that information regularly updated, is the best antidote.”
Moving forward, OLEO will seek to work with the King County Sheriff’s Office to advance these recommendations into policy and practice.
OLEO is an independent office established by the County Council that represents the interests of the public in its efforts to hold the Sheriff’s Office accountable for providing fair and just police services. It conducts systemic reviews of the Sheriff’s Office’s policies, practices and trainings, and makes policy recommendations to the Sheriff’s Office and the County Council for meaningful improvements. However, only the Sheriff may decide whether or not to adopt OLEO’s recommendations. Neither OLEO, the Council, nor the Executive’s Office can mandate its policies.
A copy of the report is attached. It’s also available report online at: https://kingcounty.gov/~/media/independent/law-enforcement-oversight/Documents/2018/2018-06-07-UF-Brechner-Report.ashx
For more information about the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, see: www.brechner.org.
Sheriff Johanknecht released a statement in response to the report:
Sheriff Johanknecht and her executive team reviewed the Brechner Center Report in February 2018. At that time, we met with OLEO Director Jacobs regarding her concerns about how the previous administration handled public communication in the aftermath of an officer involved shooting in June 2017.
We told Ms. Jacobs then, and want to assure the public now, that transparent and truthful communication is one of the Sheriff’s top priorities. Since taking office, our administration has proactively released information, and accompanying documentation, quickly on a variety of issues. That information has been transmitted through public disclosure requests, press releases, on camera interviews and in social media posts so the information is easily obtained by anyone wishing to seek it.
Sheriff Johanknect is committed to continuing to have a transparent and open relationship with both the media and the public.