When Do Police Services Report to the Public and the Media?

Crime tape

Thunder Bay – NEWS – Police services run a difficult gauntlet in terms of updating the public on what they are doing, and how information is relayed through media to the public. The tough part is police are working on multiple levels.

First is the main efforts in crime prevention. Next is protecting investigations, and finally in keeping the public informed.

The basic intent for police services is to cooperate fully with the media. However there are also instances when certain prerequisites must be met prior to the release of information.

These prerequisites include ensuring that the release of information would not compromise an investigation; that in the case of a serious injury or death the next of kin have been notified; and that the rights of an individual who has been arrested or who is wanted for the commission of a crime are preserved.

Keep in mind that the first responsibilities that police have is ensuring public safety and the safety of their officers. There are times when the release of information, including on social media could put officers at risk.

Police and media have a balancing act to follow to ensure that the public’s need to know doesn’t compromise public safety or a police investigation.

In order for police to release the name of an individual accused of an offence, the charge must be sworn/laid before the court. A document, called an information, must be filed within the court to formally charge an individual. The person’s name and charges are then uploaded to the Provincial Court docket and become public information, visible to anyone.

When persons are arrested by police, there are three possible outcomes to their release:

  • Without charge;
  • Released by police with charges pending and a future court appearance; and
  • Brought to the court with charges laid, with the Judge deciding on release of the individual and a future court appearance.

If a person is released without a charge, no name is released.

If a person is released by police with a future court date, generally, charges are not laid at that time. In this case, charges are considered pending and the name of the individual is not public information. Police are not permitted to name the individual. Police must ensure the charges are laid before the first court appearance.

If a person is brought before the court, the charge must be sworn/laid for the person to be seen by a Judge. In this case, the name of the individual becomes public information, visible to all on the Provincial Court docket. Police are then permitted to release the name.

There are exceptions where names are not released, including all youth who are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In addition, the court may issue a publication ban in certain cases which prevents police from releasing the name of the accused.

For the public some of these guidelines may be difficult to understand, for some there is the idea that people have a complete and total right to know about what the police are doing.

In some cases, while media wants to have a scoop, and where some on social media want to post immediate actions, it is a matter of putting responsibility ahead of just getting information out there for the public.

In general restricting information from the media and the public must meet a specific law enforcement need.

General Restrictions: Information shall not be released:

Upon the order of a court.

At the request of the Crown Attorney.

By order of the Chief or their designee.

Regarding any departmental internal matter unless permission is given by the Chief or their designee.

Specific Restrictions: In criminal matters, the following information shall not be released:

If it could lead to the identity of offenders under the age of 18 years of age.

When the release of names of accused could lead to identity of the victim of a criminal act.

The identity of an arrested person for whom a complaint and warrant have not yet been issued.

The identity of suspects who are interviewed but not charged.

The identity of the victim of a sexually motivated crime or the specific location of such a crime that would reveal the identity of the victim. General information such as race, sex, age, student status and residence is permitted.

The identity of witnesses to criminal acts.

Items of evidence related to a criminal act.

Information that only the guilty party would know, which if revealed might compromise the investigation.

Speculation or supposition as to why or who committed a crime.

Information as to admissions, confessions or the results of any tests. No mention will be made of a subject’s refusal to take tests or make an admission.

No photographs or composite drawings will be provided without the authorization of the Chief or designee.

A subject shall not be forced to pose for photographs, nor shall interviews be arranged, between any subject and representatives of the media.

In the case of a death, the identity of a victim shall not be released until the next of kin are notified.

No mention of specific police tactics or investigative techniques beyond those generally known to the public shall be made.

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