Officers barred from interviews
By Times staff writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Police Chief Chuck Harmon on Wednesday abruptly banned all members of the department from speaking with St. Petersburg Times reporters and other members of the media.
During a staff meeting, Harmon directed that all requests for information or interviews be referred to the department's public information officers. The chief cited a written policy that was first issued in 1989 and updated in January.
By strictly enforcing the written policy, Harmon is departing from common practice followed by previous St. Petersburg police chiefs. Reporters from the Times routinely interview police officers and administrators without first contacting the department's spokesman.
Harmon did not respond to a request for comment.
Department spokesman Rick Stelljes said the decision to strictly enforce the written policy is not aimed at the Times and will be applied to all media outlets.
The decision came a day after Harmon called a Times editor to protest the newspaper's pursuit of a news article detailing the uncertain results of a joint effort between St. Petersburg police and the Pinellas Sheriff's Office to enforce drug laws within the city. The June total for city drug arrests was the lowest monthly arrest total in four years.
Stelljes said the change in approach to dealing with the media and Harmon's opposition to the drug arrest story are unrelated. He said reporters will be allowed to speak to members of the department after he approves the request, and he downplayed the significance of the change in approach.
"This is a media coordination issue," Stelljes said. "It's a very slight variation to ensure the public information officer is in the loop."
Mack Vines, the former St. Petersburg chief who was fired in December by Mayor Rick Baker and replaced by Harmon, and other recent chiefs allowed police officers to speak with reporters without first receiving permission from a public information officer.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111