NEW YORK — The NYPD has ordered the city's 77 police precincts to stop giving out any information to the media about crimes taking place in their neighborhoods, cutting off a long-standing source of information for New Yorkers.
According to a terse NYPD edict transmitted citywide, precinct commanders were instructed: “Any requests by media to view complaint reports be referred to the office of the Deputy Commissioner For Public Information.”
The NYPD's public information office, known as DCPI, typically disemminates only select major crimes such as murders, sexual assaults and grand larcenies, but often does not include lower level neighborhood crimes. Those complaints could traditionally be found at the precinct, a reliable source for information of interest for residents.
According to sources, the latest media restriction was sent last week to the precinct supervisors from their borough commanders, who received the transmission from the NYPD’s Chief of Patrol James Hall.
Reporters from DNAinfo New York, and other local news sites, experienced the crackdown this week when they were told that access to the precinct’s reports were suddenly revoked. The crackdown was first reported by The Nabe.
"It's a big policy change," a source said
However, the source questioned whether DCPI would be able to cope with the influx of media requests if reporters couldn't get information from the precincts. “DCPI is a small unit, so I don't know how they're going to handle it."
The move is the latest — and perhaps not the last — taken against the media by outgoing Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
“This is just another sign of the current NYPD’s hostility to public accountability," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Starting in January, we expect the department to take a dramatically different approach to openness, one that will benefit not only local newspapers but the press and public in general."
Under his stewardship, DCPI has systematically diminished the type of information it provides as well as overall access to department personnel. The clampdown evolved even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a media mogul, pledged that his administration would be a beacon of open government and transparency.
Kelly made himself the face of the NYPD and, with rare exception, the only police person permitted to speak to television, radio and print reporters about department matters, large and small.
Leaked information not sanctioned by the NYPD has led to what critics call "witch hunts" inside the department, including suspected leakers being grilled by the Internal Affairs Bureau.
Kelly went so far as to attempt to oust the city's in-house press corps, including the New York Times, the AP, the Daily News and the New York Post, among others, from their offices within Police Headquarters several years ago.
The news came in a two paragraph letter that gave barely one month's notice, claiming there was no longer room for them inside One Police Plaza. The eviction was halted, only after owners of several news outlets complained to Mayor Bloomberg.
The NYPD released a statement early Friday evening:
"The New York City Police Department’s Patrol Guide clearly states that all media requests shall occur through the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI). Local crime information is available to media and distributed through DCPI, which is operational 24/7 to facilitate press inquiries from the media. This procedure has been in place for decades."