Lone cop shines light on blotter blackout as it turns one month old

The police department’s blotter blackout is a month old and someone at police headquarters finally admitted there has been a drastic change in its media policy following week after week of denials.

The police precincts that have provided reporters access to crime report information for this paper’s weekly crime blotter for decades stopped suddenly in early December, citing an order from police headquarters. The public information office at One Police Plaza repeatedly refused to acknowledge that such an order exists, much less explain why, until a sergeant there shed some light on the situation.

“The daily papers got mad because the weekly papers had so much access [to police precincts],” said Sgt. Jessica McRorie. “The big papers always wanted a piece of that and they got cranky when they didn’t.”

In response, top cops cut off all access to the crime reports, according to McRorie. The records are the basis of the weekly police blotter in this paper.

The scenario the sergeant outlines jibes with a report by the news website Gothamist that quotes a community newspaper editor anonymously, saying that the specific source of heartburn at the daily newspapers was the combination of precinct- and headquarters-level access maintained by news website DNAinfo.

“Sometimes if there’s a problem, the simpler solution is to shut everything down,” the editor reportedly said.

DNAinfo’s managing editor Michael Ventura declined to comment.

Follow-up inquiries to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information were met with silence, but spokespeople there insisted in weeks past that the key to ending the embargo lies with the precincts, despite the continued barring of beat journalists from all but three of the 13 precincts this paper covers and local commanding officers deferring to headquarters.

“They want us to refer everything to [the public information office],” said Captain James Ryan of Greenpoint’s 94th Precinct again this week. “We are the most transparent agency. They are just vetting everything. We’re not trying to not let you know anything.”

A lawman at the front desk of Brooklyn Heights’ 84th Precinct concurred.

“Requests have to go through official channels, I guess,” said an Officer Degennaro.

The public information office has also refused to respond to repeat requests for comment on a letter Sheepshead Bay’s Community Board 15 sent demanding reporters be allowed back into the precincts.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has predicted that the blackout will end with the installation of Bill Bratton as police commissioner this week. One longtime reader said he sure hopes that is the case.

“When Bratton comes in during 2014, an election year, he’ll reinstate the reporting of crimes,” said Windsor Terrace legend Tom Prendergast. “If not the NYPD logo should be converted to ‘NYKGB.’ ”

— with Megan Riesz, Will Bredderman, and Danielle Furfaro

Nathan Tempey is a Deputy Editor at the Community Newspaper Group. Reach him at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4504. Follow him at twitter.com/nathantempey.