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UPDATE: SLC Police to change protocol for information requests
May 24, 2023, 2:17 PM | Updated: 2:23 pm
UPDATE: Salt Lake City Police Department sent an updated statement regarding the way they distribute information stating it will continue to allow phone calls and emails in addition to its new media request form.
“We should have said this in our initial notification announcing our new Media Request Form – but we will make it abundantly clear now — we will continue to provide you with the information you need when you need it, ” the release stated.
This language differed from the original release that said the department would review requests for information and “determine whether an immediate response is needed.”
SLCPD and Utah media are scheduled to meet Thursday, May 25.
The previous release stated, “Journalists who call the department’s media line, 801-799-NEWS, or send an email to PolicePRUnit@slcgov.com, will be directed to fill out the media request form.” An updated statement from the department said “Our media line (801) 799-6397 and our PR Unit e-mail (PolicePRUnit@slcgov.com) will always remain open for you to reach us. The new Media Request Form will now establish a system of internal redundancy and accountability and will ensure that media inquiries – even after hours – are promptly addressed and tracked. It will not be the sole mechanism for contacting our PIOs.”
The department explained its commitment to journalists and providing information that impacts the neighborhoods and people of the city. It said that commitment extends beyond regular office hours.
Our original reporting is below.
SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Police Department announced it will be changing the way it handles information requests and said it will “determine whether an immediate response is needed.”
Effective Thursday, June 1, the department will implement a “media request form” for all inquiries news related or otherwise.
According to a release by Salt Lake City police, the new approach will “help SLCPD to ensure all media requests are handled in a timely, efficient, and professional manner…”
Related: Multiple Utah schools received fake reports of school shooting, officials say
Previously, journalists could call the department’s media line, 801-799-NEWS, to get timely information on police incidents, crime, or emergency situations. After calling the number, the public information officer working that day would respond by returning the call to the newsroom and providing any relevant information while answering questions.
The new method would require journalists, or other interested parties, to fill out an online form with 10 boxes, four required, and six optional; describing the information sought.
“We believe that this absolutely will help us: not only track what we’re doing but will also help ensure a timely response for media,” Department spokesperson, Brent Weisberg said.
The release informs the public that after filling out the media request form, “a member of the SLCPD’s PR Unit will review the request to determine whether an immediate response is needed.”
Former SLC Police Chief weighs in
Former Chief Chris Burbank doesn’t think the media request form is a good idea.
“If everything is online, you’re just going to get a bunch of rogue responses that are not going to satisfy the public,” Burbank said. “Especially if there’s a problem or an issue that we need to know about.”
Burbank said there is a need for a knowledgeable and accessible spokesperson to give the public information they deserve.
“Too many agencies have somebody who’s a spokesperson but they don’t know anything and can’t respond to anything,” Burbank said.
Weisberg said the police department doesn’t have the ability to track the number of public information calls and that this new system would help them measure and keep track of requests.
“What this does is it gives us a metric so we can track it but also what it does is it allows public information officers to get a push notification of what media is requesting,” Weisberg said.
The release also warns that the SLCPD’s Public Relations Unit will not be staffed 24/7.
Weisberg said it comes down to staffing.
“We wish we could be 24 hours a day… unfortunately given the staffing of the squad right now, and the staffing of the department, we can’t do that,” Weisberg said.
“You need somebody who is accessible 24 hours a day because the world happens 24 hours a day, not just conveniently when somebody’s working on the weekend,” Burbank said.
Burbank said he had someone available to answer calls 24/7 when he was chief, and now the department has over 500 sworn officers, the most in its history.
“Always in the past, there’s been full-time public information people. So the question then becomes what are you doing or how are you prioritizing that resource that you have?” Burbank said.
The release states, “We understand this change will require time to adjust. At the same time, we recognize the importance of adapting to changing demands and needs, when it comes to the volume and complexity of requests we receive.”
“When a governmental agency, I don’t care if it’s the police department, the mayor’s office, or the state government, when they don’t access or respond to the media, the media is left to report what they know: what they can get access to,” Burbank said. “And when the government is poor at providing information or correcting information, well that leaves the wrong story out there.”
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