NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · FLORIDA · Newsgathering · April 3, 2006
Police union issues ‘lookout’ advisory for journalist
April 3, 2006 · A Florida police union posted on its Web site a “be on the lookout” advisory with a television reporter’s photo, home address, birth date and drivers license number after the journalist reported a hidden-camera segment on poor police response to citizens who wish to file complaints.
The Broward County Police Benevolent Association removed Michael Kirsch’s information from the advisory after a lawyer for WFOS-TV sent a letter to the station last month, but Kirsch’s photo recently was reposted along with the birth date, home address and cell phone number of Gregory Slate, an investigator from the Police Complaint Center, a watchdog group that was involved in the investigation.
The joint hidden-camera investigation by Kirsch and the center found that “it was virtually impossible to walk in the door, and walk out with a complaint form.” Only three of 38 police stations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties gave the requester a complaint form, according to the report, which aired in February. At the Lauderhill station, the requester refused to give a name or account of the incident, so an officer escorted the requester out of the building and said, “One more step forward, and you’ll see what happens.”
The “be on the lookout” advisory — called BOLOs by police — reads, in part “Channel 4 News is doing a series on the complaint process at police departments in Dade and Broward. They are setting up officers and instigating confrontations, then filing complaints with the various agencies.” It also “warns” officers of a racial profiling investigation: “A white male in a red Mustang convertible will speed down the road. Later, the same car, this time with a black male driving, will appear in the same area driving slowly. If the car is pulled over by the police, the occupant will become hostile and accuse the officer of profiling, trying to pick a fight. If the officer responds negatively, a complaint is filed with his/her department.”
Kirsch was shocked when a colleague told him police departments were handing the advisory out to officers. “I just thought, what was going on here?” he said.
Kirsch says he personally does not feel intimidated. “I definitely stop at every stop sign and I don’t speed,” he said, “and I’ve heard things, comments made by police officers and negative things about me, but it’s not going to stop me from asking the questions and investigating them. Will it discourage others in this market and intimidate other reporters? That is the concern.”
After an attorney for the station sent a letter to the organization, the original advisory was removed. But another advisory was posted on March 17. It was still on the Web site Monday and warns that Kirsch and Slate “are currently back out on the street.”
Dick Brickman, president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, told The Miami Herald last week before he stopped speaking to the press that he posted the advisory “so our members if they come across any of these people, they should be aware these people they’re talking to probably have you on camera.”