MNSPJ opposes change to Mpls. Police PIO role

Last night, the MNSPJ board emailed Minneapolis City Council members to speak out against a proposed change to the Minneapolis Police Public Information Officer position:

Dear Council Member,

We’re writing to you today, as the board of the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, to express our concerns about a proposal regarding the Minneapolis Police Department’s Public Information Officer (PIO).

Our understanding is that, should the council approve this budget amendment, the PIO position would be eliminated and the city’s communications team would take over police communications. We strongly discourage this change, and request that members of the City Council table Friday’s vote until journalists and members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in.

Our primary concern is that the city’s communications department is not suited to this role. An effective PIO must have the trust both of police officers and journalists, and that takes time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Will a communications liaison be on the scene of late-night shootings? Will he or she give press conferences and return phone calls on weekends and city holidays?

We are also concerned that repositioning police communications will take away the autonomy that the PIO role allows. Public safety information should never be vulnerable to manipulation based on city politics and sentiments.

There is a precedent for this: In 2003, SPJ responded when then-Mayor RT Rybak wanted to eliminate the MPD PIO. The board’s primary goal then, as now, was to ensure transparency around taxpayer-funded public safety and law enforcement.

We fully recognize and understand the communication issues that exist within the current PIO model, but do not believe that eliminating that channel of communication will solve the problem. At a time when there is a renewed call for police transparency, any action to remove the PIO and undermine the position by placing it under city direction would further erode public trust.

Thank you for your time. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue further, please feel free to contact our president, Emma Nelson.

The Board of the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists