Police commissioner Ray Kelly has decided to eject reporters from police headquarters — a move that ends decades of tradition and may be one of the most egregious assaults on freedom of the press and the First Amendment in years.
In a letter dated April 10, Kelly told managing editors of the Times, the Post, the Daily News, Newsday, NY1 and other local media outlets that he will boot reporters from 1 Police Plaza on July 31 to make way for yet another emergency operations center. (The NYPD already operates two such centers, and the Office of Emergency Management already operates a third.)
Kelly didn’t bother to tell the 16 or so in-house reporters before sending the missive.
“Regrettably,” Kelly writes, “we don’t have space at HQ in the immediate future for [news organizations] who will have to move out by the end of July.”
He goes on to say that the earliest that space “may” be available for the press is 2013 — four years away. But he promises nothing.
Kelly closes with a classic bureaucratic statement: “Please let me now if there is anything the Police Department may do to assist [you] in the logistics in the coming move.”
For many decades reporters have been stationed at 1PP in a tiny, dusty warren of rooms on the second floor. In the past the arrangement helped the Police Department put out information to the public and allowed reporters to maintain contact with key police officials.
The shutdown brought immediate and sharp criticism from local media — though those who spoke to the Voice declined to be identified by name.
“It’s a dangerous precedent that breaks long standing tradition,” one journalist tells the Voice. “They are sort of hiding behind this ‘Keep America Safe’ movement. It’s easy for them, but the realty is that it doesn’t benefit them because it will prevent that dialogue between Kelly’s office and the reporters who cover the department.”
To this reporter, the move is another step in a long process of limiting reporters’ access to Police Department public information that began under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and has continued under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Kelly was once a guardian of the media’s right to now, but now he’s aping Giuliani’s commissioner Howard Safir, who loved to stiff-arm the press. (Odd, since Kelly enjoys wide support in the city — as Safir never did.)
Even before this move, the police press office which handles reporters’ questions, DCPI, has gotten a reputation for stonewalling and ignoring reporters, even when they’re just trying to find out basic information.
True to form, one Sergeant Watkins in DCPI refused to take a reporter’s phone number (Kelly’s spokesman, Paul Browne, likewise ignored questions). Watkins insisted on an email, but didn’t respond to the questions we sent.
And he hung up the phone on us.
Update 9:20 a.m.: No word from for NYPD or mayor’s office, but the Post reports that last night the PC amended the order to provide “makeshift” space in a conference room for two years.
Photo via New York State Power Authority.