A top District of Columbia police official has ordered several police investigative sections to curb leaks to the press, instructing them to restrict their contact with the media and to fill out forms reporting every conversation with members of the press.
Assistant Chief of Police William R. Dixon, head of the Inspectional Services Bureau, said in an interview this week that "the policy is that the people in the Inspectional Services Bureau are to restrict their contacting members of the news media, and if they are contacted . . . to refer (requests) to PIO (Public Information Office) or to the commander of their unit."
Under the new guidelines, when a staff person talks with a reporter, "there's a little form that asks such information as the general topic", the time and date of the conversation, the identity of the reporter and whether the reporter or staff member initiated the discussion, Dixon said.
"Because of the rather sensitive nature of the assignments that the people in that particular bureau are engaged in, I think it only prudent that they not unnecessarily discuss" police matters with the media, Dixon added.
The Inspectional Services Bureau includes investigative services, which handles raw intelligence; the morals division, which makes narcotics arrests; and internal affairs and field inspections, which oversee the inner workings of the department. He issued the new guidelines March 22.
Dixon said his decision was based in part on a story in The Washington Post earlier this month outlining a dispute in the police department over the handling of unsubstantiated allegations against Mayor Marion Barry. Dixon said he was particularly concerned that the name of a person who provided information to the police was printed, saying that jeopardizes police operations.
Dixon, who has headed the 178-member bureau since 1979, also cited "difficulties" in the past two years when "some information was released prematurely" and "jeopardized the success" of investigations.
"It meant that an investigation actually had to be shut down in some instances or cut short in others," he said. He declined to elaborate on those cases.
A spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police termed the new policy "a futile gesture". Gary Hankins, chairman of the labor committee of the FOP, said: "A person who's going to leak something isn't going to sign a form indicating that they leaked it."
Officers motivated by conscience and principle have in the past leaked information regarding departmental procedures and operations when "they thought questions should be raised," Hankins added. "I've never seen material leaked by any investigator on the job that would hurt his investigation."