Police chief says changes are “because of” criticism in the media
Will significantly reduce information available to the press and the public
Comes following promise by mayor to post “all” reports online
JONESBORO, Ark. – The press and the public will soon be learning less about reports than we have in the previous few years, according to an internal email sent to Jonesboro police officers by the chief of police.
The email, sent 5:15 PM Tuesday evening, May 14, was obtained by NEA Report through Freedom of Information Act request on Thursday morning.
The email was sent by Chief Rick Elliott to the entire department. The subject reads, “Incident narrative adjustment.” In the email, officers are instructed to write a “brief” initial narrative with basic information about the call.
From there, everything else will be masked from view under an “investigative narrative.”
“Due to it being marked investigative, it will not be released to the media until the case has been closed or marked inactive,” Elliott wrote in the email available in full below.
However, cases are often not marked “closed” or “inactive” until months or years later. A report by The Jonesboro Sun into the internal investigation on the shooting of K-9 Rocket showed few if any investigative efforts had taken place until after NEA Report broke the story.
This establishes what The Sun, KAIT, and other outlets have suggested in editorials: the label “under investigation” may not mean that a case is really being actively worked. It is an admitted loophole in the law that allows police departments to “own” information for months or years.
Elliott stated in the email the changes were due to heavy criticism from “several local media outlets.” While a release from the mayor’s office suggested more transparency was coming, the media will now feel the retaliatory effects with access to less information.
An anonymous law enforcement source made NEA Report aware of the e-mail’s existence late Wednesday. The source, while offering their personal opinion, felt it was a move to be less transparent and wanted the public to be aware of the change.
As you may know, we have taken a heavy amount of criticism over the past few weeks from several local media outlets. Because of this, we are in the process of implementing new procedures when entering RPS reports. This change will make the information in the reports more uniform so that the releasable portion is more readily identified.
When writing a report, the first narrative needs to contain the following information: time and date of incident, location of incident and a brief description for responding to the call.
An example would be “On 01/10/19 at approximately 1745 hours, I was dispatched to [INCIDENT LOCATION] in reference to counterfeit money being discovered. Upon arriving on scene, I made contact with [WITNESS1] who advised that a cashier had been counting down her cash drawer when she discovered what she thought to be a counterfeit bill. [WITNESS1] advised the cashier came straight to him and advised him of her finding”.
This information will remain as non-investigative. After this step, you will start a new narrative that you will need to mark as investigative. This is the narrative that pertains to sensitive investigative information that you have obtained on the scene, such as the identity of a potential suspect that has not yet been contacted and who could be in possession of evidence. Or information that, if released, might hamper any investigative efforts. Due to it being marked investigative, it will not be released to the media until the case has been closed or marked inactive.
If a report is assigned to a CID investigator or a DTF agent, all narrative provided by them should be marked investigative. If any report has the security feature enabled, please notify Sally Smith and make her aware of the report number and reason why it is locked down, i.e. “DTF undisclosed investigation” or “ICAC undisclosed investigation”.
These changes need to start today. Please let me know if you have any questions regarding these changes.
Chief Rick Elliott
Jonesboro Police Department
The FOIA request was process by Public Information Specialist Sally Smith, who added that the change was to assist with investigative material in felony reports. To get everyone used to it, the plan is to implement the policy on all reports, both misdemeanor and felony.
“This change is being implemented to all reports at this time, in order to get the officers compliant on these changes,” wrote Smith. “There may be further changes to these instructions on ACTIVE investigations.”