Police, Portland TV stations agree on helicopter restrictions
OREGON–Portland police and local television stations agreed in mid-March to guidelines restricting news media’s helicopter coverage of police activity in hostage situations or any incidents involving barricaded armed assailants.
The guidelines require the broadcast stations to: stop televising live shots of emergency reaction teams or police officers when it is “reasonable to assume” the suspect has access to television; keep helicopters one mile away and at least 1,000 feet high to avoid police radio interference; and work to establish a system providing police with a direct phone link to all four major Portland television stations at once.
Talks on the guidelines were prompted by a late-January incident during which police believed their safety was compromised as broadcast stations showed live images of a standoff at the home of a marijuana grower suspected of shooting three police officers.
Portland Police Chief Charles Moose had blamed television stations for the possibility that suspect Steven Dons might have become aware of police positions during the standoff. One officer was killed and two were injured in a shoot-out after officers attempted to apprehend Dons, leading to the standoff. Media helicopters did not arrive at the scene until after the shootings.
Local Portland politicians, including Mayor Vera Katz, had recommended that police and television stations agree to restrictions established by the city attorney. Television station managers refused, contending the proposed restrictions were too broad and that the final standards should be established cooperatively between police and television stations.
Media participants felt that they could resolve the situation with police directly without interference from politicians. “We felt the real work needed to be on the street level. If [the agreement] was politicized, then it would not have been resolved so smoothly,” Mike Devlin, news director at KATU-TV, said.
Television station managers have accepted the restrictions. “I don’t think it will restrict media coverage. It will not be interfering in the publication and broadcasting of the event,” Devlin said.