In a move aimed at restoring public trust in police investigations, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau has ordered every member of the Police Department to sign a new policy meant to clamp down on leaks of sensitive or crucial information.
The new policy takes the department’s policy manual a step further, with heavy penalties for anyone caught improperly accessing or sharing police data, including possible criminal prosecution, loss of their job or both.
“It is critical that we maintain the integrity of any investigation,” Harteau wrote in a note accompanying the memo, which was sent to the department’s 800-plus officers.
Employees must submit a signed copy of the policy by Jan. 3. The department gave the Star Tribune a copy of the form on Monday.
Harteau’s note, e-mailed Dec. 10, said the release of information on active investigations “has been detrimental” to the department in the past and “more recently in major events of this past year,” though she didn’t specify exactly which case warranted the new policy.
State law requires the department to release some basic information on any case, such as the date and time of an incident, or the name of any adult cited or arrested, but many details are kept private until criminal charges are filed or the case is submitted to a grand jury for review.
One of the highest profile cases of the year involved Terrance Franklin, a robbery suspect who was shot and killed by two police officers May 10. In that case, two sources released some nonpublic details of the investigation before the Police Department presented the findings of its investigation.
Former Minneapolis Chief Tim Dolan said he found it impossible to stop leaks from within the department.
“It’s an age-old problem,” he said, adding that as long as the information is accurate it’s not as harmful to the department.
The department’s policy manual already prohibits employees from releasing information to the media “on any case where the progress of an investigation may be jeopardized by premature media coverage.”
Harteau, asked for comment on Monday, said it’s about protecting investigations.
“When police sources are quoted as the source, they are detrimental to public perception with respect to the integrity of the investigation,” she said in an e-mail. “Although I have no doubt, we need the public to know and believe that we conduct fair and impartial investigations, regardless of who is involved.”
“I have been very public and vocal that this is unethical, and I will use my full authority to discipline, including but not limited to criminal charges if appropriate.”
The president of the police union did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment on the memo.
The head of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the organization has taken a dim view of such policies in the past because it defeats the ideal of openness.
“I understand why she’s doing it,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota ACLU, “but this is not appropriate.”
Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said there’s been no pushback from the officers or the union over the new policy. “This is a simple issue of protecting the privacy of both our officers and victims of crimes. I think most of our staff have understood the intent of the policy,” he said.
Elder said investigative data released outside official channels sometimes gets corrupted, like people playing the children’s game “telephone,” and as the information gets passed from person to person, it becomes increasingly inaccurate.
“Unfortunately, we have seen instances of this and would like to address it,” said Elder.