Media Guide

Table of Contents

Crimes & Arrests – What information is available?

Public Information Officers make every effort to provide the following information as soon as it is reasonable to do so:

  • Name and type of an event or crime.
  • Location, date, time, general nature of injuries, damages, and general description of how the incident occurred.
  • Possibility of outstanding suspect(s).
  • General identity (male/female) and approximate address of victim (Some exclusions apply).
  • Number of personnel involved in an event or investigation and length of time spent on the investigation.
  • Name, sex, and age of person(s) arrested (Some exclusions apply).
  • Date, time and place of arrest.
  • Name of the officer/investigator in charge of the case, officer/investigator’s supervisor, and the officer/investigator’s division or unit assignment.
  • Name of the arresting officer(s), unless the officer(s) are engaged in a covert operation.
  • Type and quantity of property taken in a theft or burglary.
  • Whether resistance was encountered, pursuit was made, weapons that were used, charges placed against the suspect, and description of the contraband seized.
  • Charges and amount of bail.
  • Place of detention.
  • Names of deceased victims, following the notification of next of kin and official identification by the Boone County Medical Examiner unless special, rare circumstances exist.

Crimes & Arrests – What information is NOT available?

Public Information Officers, or any other department employee, does NOT release:

  • Specific identity of victim or witnesses.
  • Identity of juvenile suspect.
  • Identity of suspect before arrest unless such information would aid in apprehending the suspect or serve to warn the public of potential danger in consultation with the lead investigator.
  • Identity of a sex crime victim or any related information that could lead to the victim’s identity.
  • Identity of critically injured or deceased persons before family notification and official identification by the Boone County Medical Examiner unless special, rare circumstances exist.
  • Medical conditions, unless permission is specifically given by the injured person or the family (a general update of condition may be given relevant to the investigation).
  • Results of any investigative procedure (i.e. line-ups, polygraph tests, ballistics tests, blood alcohol content, toxicology results, fingerprint comparisons, etc.) Fact that tests have been performed may be revealed without further comment.
  • Information which, if prematurely released, MAY INTERFERE with an investigation or apprehension of a suspect (i.e. nature of leads, specifics of the modus operandi, “guilty knowledge,” which are details of the crime known only to the perpetrator or police, or information that may cause the suspect(s) to flee to avoid arrest).
  • Evidence that may adversely hinder or affect a judicial court proceeding.
  • Specific cause of death unless officially determined by the Boone County Medical Examiner.
  • Descriptions of items seized/discovered during investigation unless or until items are subject of a charge, then only to the extent necessary to identify the charges which were filed.
  • Prior computerized criminal history, character, or reputation of a defendant (specific requests about prior arrests are releasable, but require some direction. An example of a request that could be processed would be an inquiry for details about a DWI arrest in 2009 which is specific in nature versus a general question inquiring if there have ever been any arrests. A general question about the suspect’s criminal history could not be processed).
  • Information related to the existence or contents of any confession, admission, or any statement made by a defendant or the defendant’s failure or unwillingness to make a statement.
  • Information related to the existence or contents of any statement or expected testimony of any witness or victim.
  • Information related to any opinions on the guilt or innocence of the defendant or the merits of the case.
  • Information related to any opinion or knowledge of the potential for a plea bargain or other pre-trial action or motion.
  • Status or identity of persons released to the Missouri Division of Social Services.
  • Status or identity of persons released to any mental health facility.
  • Information related to a case where another local, state, or federal agency is designated as the primary investigative agency concerning the case investigation.
  • Identity of a student, regardless of age, who is the victim of the offense of Improper Relationship with an Educator.
  • Information related to pending investigation, other than generally releasable information that would not hinder the investigation.

Is Police or Fire Primary?

  • The Columbia Police Department Public Relations Unit will  handle Media inquiries related to police operations. We will refer Media requests for information that are not related to police operations to the appropriate outside agency or internal department.
  • The Columbia Fire Department will handle Media inquiries related to injured persons, fire scenes, and other natural disasters (i.e. injured persons at construction sites, tornados, bomb threats or burning structures). Although there could be a police report taken for a Fire incident, such as an injured person report, any department response will need to come from the lead agency for that case.
  • Media access movement inside a fire line will be controlled by the fire on-scene commander. In consultation with the fire on-scene commander, the ranking police officer at the scene may establish an observation point from which the Media may observe and photograph the incident.

Establishing The Identity of a Deceased Person

  • The Boone County Medical Examiner conducts investigations in certain types of deaths. Once next of kin notifications have been made and the identity is established, the Boone County Medical Examiner will post the identifying information.
  • The Columbia Police Department often has an early indication of the identity of a deceased individual, but is not the lead agency responsible with releasing that information. Please refer these inquiries to the Boone County Medical Examiner.

Amber Alerts

The success of an Amber Alert is often measured by how quickly and timely a public alert can be issued by the investigating agency. Research has shown that when citizens are aware that a reliable mechanism exists to help locate abducted children, and when they view their role as both worthy and effective, they willingly serve as thousands of eyes and ears on behalf of law enforcement (Burns and Crawford, 1999; Zgoba, 2004; Rothe & Muzzatti, 2004).

We often receive requests from parents to issue Amber Alerts for their children, but there are very specific requirements that need to be met. The following five questions must be answered “Yes” to qualify for Amber Alert Activation, RsMo:565.110 or 565.115:

  1. Is the child 17 years of age or younger?
  2. There has been an abduction.
  3.  There are sufficient details to make a public alert useful.
  4.  There has been a credible threat of serious harm or death to the victim.
  5.  Parental disputes do not apply unless a possibility of harm to the child has been determined.

CPD will normally put missing person information out on social media, even if it does not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert.

Missouri Endangered Silver Advisory

Endangered Silver Advisory Criteria:

  • The person is an adult 60 years of age or older and believed to be suffering from dementia or other cognitive impairment.
  • A legal custodian of the missing person has submitted a missing person’s report to the local law enforcement agency where the person went missing.
  • There is sufficient information available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the missing adult.

Critical Incidents & High Risk Operations

Critical incidents are defined as events that result in death or life-threatening injuries. They may also be events that involve the intentional use of deadly force. Critical incidents may also surround the actions of a Columbia Police Officer. The Chief, Command Level Staff, or the Public Relations Unit will provide updated and timely information to the Media during a critical incident.

High-risk operations are defined as events that possibly are unfolding at the moment (i.e. barricaded persons, hostage situation, bomb threats, tactical operations, etc.) that require the agency to carefully plan its response to restore order to the community.

During critical incidents and high-risk operations, Media cooperation is essential due to the ever-changing dynamics and fluid nature of these types of events. The Public Relations Unit will request that the Media work with the department to broadcast only those images that will not compromise officer safety or put public safety in jeopardy. The on-scene commander has authority to establish a specific location for Media personnel in order to protect the integrity of the scene (please see section on “Media Staging Area”). Media understanding and compliance with these protocols is vital for peaceful resolution to the incident and is highly appreciated by the department. During explosive related incidents, officers will maintain a certain perimeter to protect the public from possible fragmentation and over-pressure risk. Over-pressure risk refers to the shock wave that is generated by explosive devices that can cause serious injury and/or death. Law enforcement can enhance public safety by maintaining this increased perimeter at the scene. Tactics and equipment deployed are proprietary and will not be discussed in order to prevent suspects from gaining future tactical advantages. The Public Relations Unit will work with the Media on selecting a location that is safe for everyone and accomplishes the mission of reporting what is occurring.

Media Staging Area

The Media staging area is a centralized location for all accredited members of the Media to set up equipment and receive information from the Public Information Officer(s). This area is initially set up by the on-scene commander, however in certain dynamic situations, it may be set up by the first responding officers. If the original officer or on-scene commander establishes a Media staging area that is “too far” from the scene, please contact the Public Relations Unit about your concerns. Once a Public Information Officer arrives on scene, every effort will be made to identify an appropriate media staging area.

Verifying Tips From the Public

Often times, investigative reporters receive tips from the public concerning information that is related to an active investigation. In these instances, reporters are encouraged to contact the Public Information Officers to verify the validity of tips. Sometimes, the tip can be verified and more information provided. Other times the investigation could be adversely impacted by a news story at that point in the investigation. Although, it is clear that news agencies and the Police Department work independently, it benefits both agencies to have an open dialogue and frank conversations. There will not always be a consensus, but maintaining an honest and respectful relationship is one of the goals of the Public Relations Unit. That positive working relationship between Media and law enforcement, ultimately benefits the community. Based on past experiences, it is clear that the Columbia Police Department and local Media understand that the primary objectives are to preserve the integrity of the investigation and protect the public.

Missouri Sunshine Law

Missouri’s commitment to openness in government is clearly stated in Section 610.011 of the Sunshine Law: “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law. Sections 610.010 to 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.”

The law sets out the specific instances when a meeting, record or vote may be closed, while stressing these exceptions are to be strictly interpreted to promote the public policy of openness.

Public meetings, including meetings conducted by telephone, Internet or other electronic means, are to be held at reasonably convenient times and must be accessible to the public. Meetings should be held in facilities that are large enough to accommodate anticipated attendance by the public and accessible to persons with disabilities.

610.011. Liberal construction of law to be public policy.

  1. It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law. Sections 610.010 to 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.
  2. Except as otherwise provided by law, all public meetings of public governmental bodies shall be open to the public as set forth in Section 610.020, all public records of public governmental bodies shall be open to the public for inspection and copying as set forth in sections 610.023 to 610.026, and all public votes of public governmental bodies shall be recorded as set forth in section 610.015.