Police Chief Takes To Facebook To Complain About A Journalist Committing Journalism

from the a-new-era-of-beef-is-upon-us dept

Cops and the press can be best friends. In some cases, they are. Anytime an officer shoots or beats someone, at least one obliging outlet steps up to publish the department's statement as well as any criminal history they've been able to dig up on the shooting/beating victim. And if the police aren't willing to turn over criminal records, some outlets will do the heavy lifting for them.

But they can also be antagonists. Generally speaking, law enforcement is a closed shop. It usually takes diligent efforts by journalists to pry loose documents pertaining to misconduct or misbehavior. State laws tend to make this more difficult than it should be by granting law enforcement agencies tons of public records exemptions.

It's this strained relationship being highlighted in an incredibly ill-advised Facebook post by the Aurora (IL) Police Department, penned by police chief Kristen Ziman. As Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery pointed out on Twitter, it's not every day you witness a police department berate a journalist for practicing journalism.

The department's Facebook post opens up with some speculation about the journalist's intentions:

For six months, a reporter at a local newspaper has been seeking essentially the complete case file of the tragic incident where a young man took his own life after exchanging gunshots with an Aurora Police officer in October, 2016. Both the reporter and the publication were especially interested in the officer’s dash cam video of the traffic stop that began the entire episode in an apparent attempt to disprove its justification. (The publication wrote an editorial on March 26, 2017, calling into question the officer’s actions and our explanation of events.) You can see the stop and events that led up to it on this post.

After pausing to note the state attorney general ruled in the department's favor in the dispute over the unreleased documents (and to praise the officer involved for his bravery and clearance of wrongdoing by the Illinois State Police investigation), Chief Ziman goes on to gripe at length about pesky journalists and public records requests. (Emphasis added.)

Aside from the video of the traffic stop, the reporter’s voluminous FOIA request included requests on all past contacts we had with Mr. Martell; past contacts we had with the driver of the car from which the original traffic stop initiated and that Mr. Martell had run from; and other detailed information on witnesses or other parties in the case. We denied the release of much of the information because doing so would have possibly identified witnesses or other bystanders--- something I find unacceptable as Chief of Police.

[...]

This is not the first request from this particular reporter that requires dozens and dozens of employee hours to fulfill. In fact, this is a regular practice for her--- many of which consist of hundreds of pages. When a FOIA request is filed, there is certain information we cannot release by law. Each FOIA filed with the police is reviewed by at least three people: the FOIA officer who assures the request is within legal parameters, a trained records clerk who redacts information that cannot be released, and an investigations supervisor who reviews the documents to assure nothing is released that shouldn’t be.

While I understand FOIA’s enhance openness and public transparency, many of the FOIA’s this reporter files don’t result in published articles. The hours the city has worked to fulfill her FOIA requests has cost taxpayers and resulted in police supervisors devoting their time on FOIA requests rather than concentrating on our crime fighting initiatives. The demand for trust between the community and the police is prolific. At some point, there has to be a trusting relationship between the media and the police.

There's a lot to unpack in this statement -- one Chief Ziman defended on Twitter by claiming she's still all about accountability... except in the case of this one reporter.

First off, while it may be a pain to fulfill requests, the law allows citizens to file them. The state is obligated to fulfill them. Listening to someone complain about a singular aspect of their job directly related to accountability doesn't exactly affirm a stated commitment to accountability.

Further, the post insinuates records requests by this reporter are resulting in less crime fighting. This post invites the public to view the reporter as an impediment to efficient law enforcement, rather than someone simply doing her job as a journalist using tools the state has given her.

More statements made by Chief Ziman on Twitter distance her further from her supposed embrace of accountability. She mentions she doesn't care for the "fishing expedition mentality," but that's exactly what journalism is. It's seeking documents and info until enough is compiled to put an article together. The fact that some requested documents are never used by journalists does not make those requests any less valid.

Finally, the Facebook post says "there has to be a trusting relationship between the media and police." No, there absolutely does not. This is completely wrong. Journalism is nothing more than stenography if it allows government agencies to steer narratives and coverage. Chief Ziman seems to think reporters should accept every statement made by police officials at face value, rather than seek underlying documents. That's not trust. That's obeisance. It's worthless in the context of transparency and accountability.

Chief Ziman would rather be allowed to release only the documents she wants to release on a schedule that's convenient to her and her department. The problem is journalists, like the one she publicly berates here, keep getting in the way of her idealized trusting relationship with the press. The government needs more outside skepticism, not less, to keep it in line. Law enforcement officials complaining about lawful activity is always a bad look, especially when they're not being given the trust they're so obviously willing to undermine.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:19am

    I can understand someone trying to do a job, trying to benefit society but not being as effective because they have to take time and resources away from doing that job to provide documentation.

    I can understand them being frustrated. How many of us bitch that we can't do our actual job because we have to create reports or attend meetings?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:36am

      Re:

      Umm, but he literally mentions that they have people whose job *is* to provide documentation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:37am

        Re: Re:

        Oops, she*

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:44am

        Re: Re:

        And those are dollars that maybe could be used to have more police on the street.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yes, and?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 1:55pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You are a childish idiot. Your tax dollars pay for the police. The more money that is used, the higher your taxes will be.

            Read the police chiefs response on her blog. It makes sense. I know it is popular to bash the police (especially Tim) but really, that is also childish. Who is the police chief's boss? Why, the mayor.

            So lets all run to the Justice Department or blame Trump for it instead of going to the head of the polices boss.

            Police control should be local, not federal.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              stderric (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 3:57pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I'm sick of paying for PR & FOIA-duty PD employees. Secretaries too. Janitors. Mechanics. All of that wasted money could put more cops on the street.

              As long as they can fix their own cars & sweep up. As far as records go, if they don't need to provide 'em to anyone then they won't have to generate any, anyway.

              In fact, what's up with all those prosecutors and public defenders and judges? Cops can be trusted to decide who's guilty, especially with more of 'em on the street keeping us safe.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 9:15pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Yes, the police department could save lots of money by ignoring laws.

              I prefer that they follow laws.

              Sorry if that upsets you into a frothing rage.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Groaker (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Why do we need more police on the streets riding around in cars?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JMT (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 6:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "And those are dollars that maybe could be used to have more police on the street."

          That's a very simplistic argument that shows you forget (or don't know...) why there are Freedom of Information laws in the first place. They were enacted for very good reasons and are necessary to have, hence staff will be required to do the work.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:00am

      Re:

      "not being as effective because they have to take time and resources away from doing that job to provide documentation"

      Providing documentation is part of the job, it's not all fun and games with night sticks and billy clubs - no .. there are reports to write, court appearances to go to and providing the dept support. Why is this frustrating - it's the damn job.

      Does your job description include the writing of reports and attending meetings? If so, then it is part of your job, not over and above your "actual job". Perhaps the actual job part is the only part you enjoy, but that is your problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:23am

    You keep using that word …

    Aside from the video of the traffic stop, the reporter’s voluminous FOIA request included requests on all past contacts we had with Mr. Martell; past contacts we had with the driver of the car from which the original traffic stop initiated and that Mr. Martell had run from; and other detailed information on witnesses or other parties in the case.

    The request only is "voluminous" if the cops have had lots of past contacts, making this even more newsworthy. You mean you've had so many interactions, Chief, that it would be "voluminous" to compile them all? Is that what you trying to say?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:26am

    Saying..

    A saying that LEO, Government and surveillance proponents like to throw around comes to mind for this Police Chief, "If you have nothing to hide ..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:28am

    The nerve!!!

    The nerve of that reporter, questioning our credibility and honesty. Our interpretation and conclusions of the outcome. Don't they know we are highly trained professionals and resent the implications of misjudgment or wrongdoing. We even got kudos from the state AG, he is a stand up guy I know him well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:38am

    The hours the city has worked to fulfill her FOIA requests has cost taxpayers and resulted in police supervisors devoting their time on FOIA requests rather than concentrating on our crime fighting initiatives.

    I would just like to point out that devoting significant time to FOIA requests is entirely voluntary on the part of the police supervisors. They could, if they wanted to, simply send full copies of every document even tangentially related to the requested information. It is only when they voluntarily decide to limit their response to only those portions of documents which they are legally required to release that it becomes a significant time sink.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 10:55am

    response

    I emailed her with a link to this article.

    She replied to me with a link to her response to the situation in general:

    http://www.kristenziman.com/2017/09/media-crosshairs-and-wars-of-words.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:13am

    Rules To Live By

    Category Trust

    Rule 1 - Don't easily trust anybody who says "Trust me".

    (Even if they word it as "The demand for trust between the community and the police is prolific. At some point, there has to be a trusting relationship between the media and the police.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:22am

    Another take on police/public relations

    From a Scott Greenfield post on Simple Justice. Take note of the 8 rules penned by some police union representative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 11:50am

    Illinois

    Jeez, Illinois again. Would somebody just put us out of our misery?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2017 @ 1:16pm

    Whats the problem here?

    So some LEO took to FaceBook to vent about how someone else makes their job hard.

    At least this LEO is not out arresting people on old unconstitutional laws, or making up laws, tricking judges into signing off on invalid search warrants and all the other crap we have seen LEOs do when someone annoys them.

    If anything the title of this article should be "Police Chief shows restraint when annoyed by journalist!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 8:39am

    For as much as this cop doesn't want to waste police time and resources, she sure spends a lot of time blogging and tweeting, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2017 @ 12:16am

    Projection Ahoy

    That is pretty hilarious, a police chief accusing a journalist of going on a fishing expedition. FOIAs are warrant-like. Half of his damn profession is oriented around fishing expeditions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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