Suffolk Police-Media Advisory panel debuts with PCLI help

pcli-logo-trans-125A court-ordered committee designed to improve relations between Suffolk County police and local media after an officer improperly arrested a photojournalist held its first meeting recently.

The Suffolk County Police-Media Advisory Committee has 17 members, including two Press Club of Long Island representatives. Seven journalists from various news organizations who were named to the committee gathered with police officials, including Commissioner Edward Webber, to share complaints and suggestions Jan. 21 at headquarters in Yaphank.

“The purpose of this committee is to exchange ideas and to help create the most advantageous working environment possible,” the meeting agenda stated. “We appreciate and recognize how important the police and the media are to each other. Committee input will help shape future media practices.”

The committee was mandated when the county last year  settled a lawsuit by freelancer Phil Datz, who was arrested by a Suffolk sergeant while filming a crash in Bohemia four years ago.

Besides the commissioner, department representatives at the meeting included Chief of Department James Burke, Chief of Detectives James Madigan, Deputy Chief of Patrol Robert Cassagne, Chief Surgeon Dr. Scott Coyne, Insp. Thaddeus Nieves, who is the commanding officer of the Precinct Detective Bureau, and Det. Lt. Robert Donahue, the commanding officer of the Community Outreach Bureau. Also on the panel are: Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon, head of the Public Information Office (PIO); Sgt. Colleen Cooney, executive officer of PIO; and Kerry Monaco, PIO media specialist. Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis is on the committee but was not at the meeting.

Journalists on the committee include News12 Long Island managing editor Doug Richards, News12 Long Island reporter Eileen Lehpamer, Newsday crime editor Monica Quintanilla, Newsday photographer James Carbone and WCBS 880 Radio reporter Sophia Hall. PCLI members on the committee are Long Island Press Managing Editor Timothy Bolger, head of the club’s Freedom of Information Committee, and former PCLI president Carolyn James, publisher of the Amityville Record, Babylon Beacon and Massapequa Post.

Before the meeting, Bolger asked three dozen local print reporters for suggestions and complaints about dealing with Suffolk police. Less than half responded and about half of those had grievances — although a few volunteered that Suffolk police are more helpful to the media than Nassau police.

Some of those complaints against Suffolk, and the department’s responses, are as follows:

  1. The department’s policy of not commenting on arrests after the suspect has been arraigned. Police responded that is because the case is in the prosecutors’ hands, but they sometimes make exceptions, just not days after arraignment.
  2. Reporters are not allowed access to investigators closest to the case, which limits the opportunity for follow-up questions and appears to be a departure from the way things were done in the past. Police replied that supervisors are the only ones authorized to conduct media interviews because they have had the most training in dealing with media.
  3. A detective yelled at a reporter for taking a photo of an arson scene from behind the police line in the Hamptons. Police countered that Hamptons police departments don’t always call in the Suffolk Arson Squad detectives and town police departments on the East End don’t have the same level of media training as Suffolk police. East End papers and police will be invited to the next committee meeting.

Aside from the discussion, committee members viewed a training video for officers outlining the rules for interacting with the media, such as the media is allowed to record anyplace where the public has access. Reporters were also encouraged to join the Citizens Police Academy to learn more about the department, or request to sit in on specific classes in that program.

At the conclusion of the nearly two-hour meeting, the participants agreed to meet again in six to eight months.

Any reporters having issues dealing with any police department on Long Island are encouraged to contact PCLI for assistance at PressClubofLI@gmail.com.

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