Investigation: Norfolk police policy limits information to the media unless it’s what they call ‘significant’

Investigative

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — If there’s a shooting in your neighborhood, would you want to know about it?
Unless a shooting in Norfolk rises to a certain level of significance, police will not alert the media. That means we can’t pass along the information to you.

“There was a death in March. It is the middle of July, and I’m just now finding out about it,” said Carissa Wheeler, who has a 7-month-old and a 9-year-old at her home on Montana Avenue in Norfolk.
Less than a block away back in March, police were investigating an undetermined death.

Wheeler didn’t know about it and WAVY’s requests for details went unanswered for 10 days as part of a police policy on releasing information to the media.

“That scares me because there are children that live in the street, there are kids that live right across the street and right down the street that play in this neighborhood all the time,” Wheeler said.

Under the policy for example, if there’s a shooting and no one was killed or critically wounded, Norfolk police will not notify the media. If we already know about it through other means — say, a tip from a viewer — we can then ask the police for more information. But often when we ask for more information, we get a delayed response.

It comes down to this — would you want to know more about a mysterious death in your neighborhood? “I don’t agree with it,” Wheeler said about the policy.

“[The police] should inform us so that we will know the situation in this neighborhood,” said Wheeler’s neighbor Maria Cabusao. “It’s very important to us because we want to have peaceful lives here.”

In the city’s Ocean View section, four people were shot including a 17-year-old, but no one died on Balview Avenue.

“We need more information because a lot of children live in this area, especially if parents are at work or not at home,” said a mother who lives on Balview and wanted to remain anonymous.

But police released no information to us that night, and it took us several days to get any details.

“That’s crazy because y’all should be working together,” said Rose Benthall. The shootout happened right outside her window. Like us, she was left in the dark.

“I think it’s terrible. I think that the police should have let the public know.”

And after weekday business hours or any time on a weekend, even if we have a tip that something is going on in a Norfolk neighborhood, we won’t be able to get information until the next business day – unless it rises to a certain level of significance.

Here are some of the ways other departments differ: In Hampton and Virginia Beach, a shooting victim doesn’t have to have life-threatening injuries. Suffolk and Portsmouth police enable dispatchers when the public information officer is unavailable. Chesapeake has an on-call PIO to release information after hours.

Norfolk police have made exceptions to their own policy on occasion, especially early this month on Madison Avenue in Spartan Village. Several children ages 6 to 16 were shot, but none critically.

And more recently, to his credit, Chief Larry Boone personally followed up with us on a gang-related shooting and car chase. But residents wonder whether they’ll be informed the next time bullets fly in their neighborhood.

“It’s really important [that police keep the media informed] because if y’all don’t tell us, we don’t know,” Wheeler said.

Norfolk Police made their most recent revision to the policy in May 2020. 10 On Your Side asked who created it and whether city residents had any input. We’re awaiting a response.

Below are ways residents and community members can receive information from police about crime in their neighborhood:

  • Crime Mapping
    • CrimeMapping.com allows citizens to query and map recent crimes and incidents within the City’s borders. Crime data is extracted on a regular basis from each department’s records system so that the information being viewed through a Web browser is the most current available.
  • Police Active Warrants
    • This dataset represents all active warrants recorded by the Norfolk Police Department. Warrants can be searched by type of crime, demographics of persons involved and total number of outstanding warrants. This dataset is updated daily.
    • Note: this dataset does not contain any active warrants that could possibly: jeopardize an ongoing investigation, or prosecution, or the safety of an individual, cause a suspect to flee or evade detection, result in the destruction of evidence.
  • Police Arrest Reports
    • This dataset represents all arrests that occurred in the last 24 hours as recorded by the Norfolk Police Department. This dataset is updated daily.
  • Police Incident Reports
    • This dataset contains incident reports recorded by the Norfolk Police Department that occurred over the last five years. Incidents can be searched by type, location, date and time of occurrence. This dataset is updated weekly.
  • Police Department Use of Force and Citizen Complaint Incidents
    • This dataset contains incident reports recorded by the Norfolk Police Department that occurred over the last five years. Incidents can be searched by type, location, date and time of occurrence. This dataset is updated weekly.
  • Community Policing Data (July 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021)
    • A data collection consisting of all traffic and investigatory stops made in Virginia as aggregated by Virginia Department of State Police.

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