The San Francisco Police Department is proposing to restrict what its investigators can tell the news media about cases, says the San Francisco Chronicle. For years, the department has encouraged inspectors to talk to the media about their cases, on the theory that they know more about the crimes they’re investigating than anyone else. No inspectors are required to get permission from higher-ups to speak to reporters. A proposed new policy specifies that “disclosure of investigative information to the media is not appropriate.” It mandates that all media requests for information be referred to the department’s public affairs office and that any comments be approved by a supervisor. The proposal warns inspectors that talking to reporters without getting clearance “could affect due process, privacy rights of individuals and sensitive investigative techniques.”
The department has already clamped down on the immediate release of police reports, requiring reporters to file a formal request under the state Public Records Act before releasing any documents. The department has 10 business days to respond, a delay often incompatible with news organizations’ demands for timeliness. The department has been keeping a tighter lid on information. One recent change was the decision to withhold a daily report known as “The Big 19” that lists major crimes, such as homicides, carjackings,and serious assaults, over a 24-hour period. The department now releases an edited version of the log, without the name of the inspector handling individual cases and providing only the general location of crimes. It no longer lists sexual assaults.