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Police investigation and the media


Policeinvestigation and the media

Policeissues are one of the most important authoritative sources of themedia. While the police are going around the clock to enforce the lawand improve the safety of the public, the fourth estate wants toprovide a fair, truthful and authoritative information to the massestheir customers. In the civilized world, the freedom of the media,speech, and opinion underpin the provisions of the human rights,which the police have an obligation to uphold. It is beyond doubtthat the media and the police are institutions with a great influenceon the quality of life, which calls for the need of trustworthinessand transparency between them. However, there still exists a greasyline on where the boundary should exist. This paper purposes toprovide arguments for and against the police giving information tothe media after arrests and in an ongoing investigation.

Access to police information is protected by laws

Inthe United States, there is the special protection of police recordsreferred to as exclusives. Even though the Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) stipulates that people, including the media, can request toaccess the federal agency records, there are exemptions wheregovernment agencies are permitted to withhold such information (Hall,Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke &amp Roberts, 2013).

Investigationon criminal activities where suspects are unaware that the police aretracking them is protected information from the media. Allowing themedia or any other member of the public would be a tip-off for thesuspected law offender which can jeopardize the process of lawenforcement. In an error where crime is so sophisticated, it hasbecome a tall order for police to track down offenders. What is more,these suspects may be caught, but all the valuable evidence to beused against them in the court of law already interfered with(Mazerolle, Antrobus, Bennett, S., &amp Tyler, 2013).

Statutesand case laws on media access to police information differ from stateto state. The overriding provision in all these jurisdictions is theinvestigatory records. In Indiana for example, there is the IndianaAccess to Public Records Act provides that Police agencies mustdisclose and maintain a daily record listing accidents, complaints,and suspected crimes (Austin M., 2015). It leaves it on the lawenforcers to decide on whether to release or hold confidentialinformation classified as the investigatory records.

Providingconfidential information to the media may endanger the life of thepublic. When the media access police information on an ongoinginvestigation, they get full identification of the suspect by age,address, and the reasons for arrests (Mazerolle L. et al.,2013). Any accomplice to the suspect or their colleagues who mighthave escaped the arrests can harm any member of the public who theyview as the conduit of information to the police.

Onthe other hand, the life of the criminal is endangered. In as much asthe police can avert crime permanently by gunning down the suspect,they are obliged to do it by the book. The members of the fourthestate usually write stories on crime so that the citizenry canremain vigilant. In doing so, people will presume to takeresponsibility and kill the suspects either through mob justice orindividually. In such cases, the investigating agency is answerable(Mazerolle L. et al., 2013).

Themedia should be kept out of ongoing investigations to avoidprejudicing a future trial. Our media often need nothing short ofnames of suspects and the kind of offenses allegedly committed. Highprofile officers in public service have an image to protect whichimplies that any stories linking them to crime cases are betterresearched. Any subtle mistake in publication means a catastrophicdamage to their reputation. In this sense, the right of presumptionof innocence until proven guilty in a due court process will beviolated (Filkin E., 2012).

Additionally,some journalists lack proper knowledge on police work and criminalprocedures. The situation is compounded by a police sector that isinept in information construction. The media are left to make senseof the rough notes. It results to the misuse of legal terms andviolations of the pre-investigative judiciary (Filkin E., 2012).Police also have their confidential contacts that assist in aninvestigation. Such are individuals who provide information underoath that anything close to their identity remains unknown. This iswhat some unethical media houses do best presume to serve theinterest of the public, yet they destroy the confidence other membersof the public bestow to the law enforcement agencies.

The media should access police information

Ithink the fourth estate offers a very powerful conduit for the policeto inform the public about safety issues. The media need the factualdata on crimes by the police to produce hard and soft news for theircustomers.it is from this information that the public learns thecordoned areas, travel advice or warnings on the consumption of foodsthat health hazards (Thomas T., 2016).

Secondly,we are in a democratic society where information on the publicofficers is not privileged. Any actions that break the law which isinvestigated need to be available so that we have the confidence thatthe public authorities are upholding the law. Our confidenceincreases if the media scrutinized the performance of the officers(Tun, Price, Bandara, Yu &amp Nuseibeh, 2016).

Ourmedia also assist in the process of investigation. According to theIdaho Code 9-335, police records are subject to disclosure to thepublic. The access to mug shots is usually denied except for caseswhere such release will assist in an investigation (Hall S., 2013).Highlighting crime stories in the news media improves the publicconfidence in the police. We develop a perception that if we provideany extra tip-off on crime, the police can clamp down the offenders.Any added faith in policing especially in our society where therelationship between the police and the citizens has deteriorated isa good step towards improved safety. More importantly, the mediareassures us that the police are visible hence a reduced fear ofcrime.

Thepublication of facts about any current crime tracking in particularoffenses is a good way to encourage more witnesses or victims to comeforward. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) through thecrimewatch program gave courage to hundreds of victims toshare stories. For example, the story of sexual abuse of Jimmy Savileunfolded hidden sexual assault cases due to the publicity accorded tothe Savile case (Thomas T., 2016). Our media can play this rolebetter if the interplay between their operations and those of thepolice are clarified well.

The new media gives the police a faster way detect crimes. We are inthe age of the internet where people from all walks of life exchangestories, photo and videos without fear. This platform offers ourofficers chances to have overt accounts to help in ‘friending’the unsuspecting law offenders. On 10th December 2015, thecops tracked down an identity thief in a grocery store in San Antoniothrough Facebook (Tun T. et al., 2016). The traditional newsmedia also use these sites, where they boast a huge fan base. Whenthe men of uniform corporate in such sites by posting photos ofsuspects under investigations, you and I can imagine the kind ofvariety of tip-offs in place. It is the speed with which free tips toevidence are obtained that makes social media a must-go platform forthe police.


Thebottom line is that all criminals should be caught and heldaccountable for public safety and ensures we follow the rule of law.It is no longer hypothetical that the police need the media and viceversa, it is a time to understand the golden rules as applicable toall the two parties to realize the moral obligation to the public.Our cops have to keep the media out is sensitive information in timesof war against another nation, foreign policy intelligenceinformation and privileged records. At the same time, the revelationof the identity of the suspect has to be in harmony with judicialguidance, where individuals are treated innocent till provenotherwise in a court of law. We need to respect the privacy of theoff-the-record and the undercover sources to avoid interfering withan ongoing investigation. On the other hand, our cops should providethe relevant information to the media to assist in the whole process,dispel any fear among the public and to publicize the dangersforeseen due to a chief suspect being at large. What is more, it isthe media who have the upper hand in improving how you and trust andhave confidence in the cops that our safety is what they wake up for.Therefore, the media and police have to form a working partnership, aunion against criminal activities cutting across social statuswithout fear or favor, but according to the provisions of theconstitution.


Austin, L. M. (2015). Towards a Public Law of Privacy:Meeting the Big Data Challenge. In&nbspThe Supreme Court LawReview: Osgoode’s Annual Constitutional Cases Conference&nbsp(Vol.71, No. 1, p. 21).

Filkin, E. (2012). The ethical issues arising from the relationshipbetween police and media.

Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J., &amp Roberts, B.(2013).&nbspPolicing the crisis: Mugging, the state and law andorder. Palgrave Macmillan.

Mazerolle, L., Antrobus, E., Bennett, S., &amp Tyler, T. R. (2013).Shaping citizen perceptions of police legitimacy: A randomized fieldtrial of procedural justice.&nbspCriminology,&nbsp51(1),33-63.

Thomas, T. (2016). The Police Investigation of Reports. In&nbspPolicingSexual Offences and Sex Offenders&nbsp(pp. 29-41). PalgraveMacmillan UK.

Tun, T., Price, B., Bandara, A., Yu, Y., &amp Nuseibeh, B. (2016).Verifiable Limited Disclosure: Reporting and Handling DigitalEvidence in Police Investigations.