As of Thursday the flow of your information will be filtered, it’ll be delayed and what we report to you will be handpicked.
For the first time ever in Jacksonville police radio traffic will be completely closed off to the public. Six years ago JSO began operating under encrypted radio frequencies, a result of 9/11.
When that change occurred a way to keep the public in the know was to provide those radios to the media. Last month a policy decision was made to take those back. At the time the only reason citied was a budgetary concern.
(On Wednesday we will provide a detailed look at the reasons most recently offered up by Sheriff John Rutherford.)
We asked a former public information officer at JSO, Ken Jefferson if this decision would limit access to the public’s information, he says it would.
“It will certainly enable them to control the flow of information because you don’t have the scanners to listen to them as it comes out,” says Jefferson. Without the ability to hear it in real time, “as its happening you’re going to have to rely on them.”
When we asked several council members for their take most were unaware of what this one policy decision by Sheriff Rutherford would actually mean. John Crescimbeni told us, “I don’t think the public realizes what’s happening.”
Most of the elected officials we talked to said there’s nothing they can do because the JSO is its own constitutional office. So that one small policy decision that will impact you is being passed with no public input, no public comments, no hearings and required only one person’s approval.
Crescimbeni did admit this decision is suspect, “When I see people trying to heighten that sense of secrecy, I have concerns about that.”
From here on out after Thursday, the sheriff’s office will determine when and how we find out about what is going on right here in Jacksonville, which in turn will affect how you find out about what’s going on in your neighborhood, not just through WOKV but through print, on TV and online.
(On Tuesday we’ll go into more detail as to why it’s even important being able to get the information in real time.)
So far the announcement that the radios will be taken back, that’s gotten mixed reviews, some people are fine with JSO having that control, “I think controlling the message is imperative in situations that involve, a serial killer is a beautiful example, when you release too much information, they know what the police are looking for so I think there needs to be some sort of control.” Kristina Meade told us this seems to be a double edged sword but she’ll side with the sheriff’s decision.
In a situation like that one or in any high stakes investigation JSO switches over to its tactical channels, ones we’ve never had access to.
If there is control of your information it’ll happen across the board.
The other side of it from you the public has been that this is a government agency cutting a line of communication.
“I’m not saying JSO is a bad organization or anything but it’s always good to be able to see things from many different directions and form your own opinion then it is to get things from a single source,” says Tom Harding, “because then you really don’t know the whole story.”
Harding says, in his opinion this is the first step towards a controlled media, “Because as far as I understand it, you all aren’t going to get any information unless its handed to you by the police . . . what would distinguish us from the Chinese at that point?”
Whether it’s an issue of control or anything else the sheriff has made it clear this is a policy decision that will not be reviewed.