MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Whether it’s a catastrophe, or a crime scene, journalists turn to public information officers for answers.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, Minneapolis Police Public Information Officer John Elder answers calls and shows up on scenes to give interviews. That could soon change.

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The Minneapolis City Council passed a motion to eliminate both MPD information officer positions, and let city hall handle communications. WCCO spoke with council members Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder.

“We see problems with accuracy … we see problems with at least perceived, you know, bias of the way information is reported,” Fletcher said.

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The council members referenced a press release that went out hours after George Floyd died, saying a suspect appeared to be suffering from “medical distress.”

“While I appreciate the challenges of getting information out in a fast-evolving situation, accuracy is paramount,” Schroeder said. “The world knows exactly what happened to Mr. Floyd. The world saw it.”

WCCO also spoke with Don Gemberling, a longtime public data expert from the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.

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“One press release based on information that was given to whoever wrote it means we ought to throw out a huge function of government? It’s just bad,” Gemberling said. “If you really care about this thing called transparency, then why would you get rid of a major way of providing transparency, which is what this is.”

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He says the biggest danger to citizens is if their neighborhood ever becomes a crime scene.

“And what do you do? You go to TV To see what happened down on your corner, and hopefully there’s John Elder or somebody like him explaining what happened,” Gemberling said. “If he’s gone, how you gonna get that information?”

The council will vote on this Friday morning. If they do vote to eliminate the public information department at the police department, it will be effective October of 2020.

The Society of Professional Journalists responded to the council’s actions with a statement, saying in part:

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We strongly discourage this change, and request that members of the City Council table Friday’s vote until journalists and members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in. Our primary concern is that the city’s communications department is not suited to this role. An effective PIO must have the trust both of police officers and journalists, and that takes time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Will a communications liaison be on the scene of late-night shootings? Will he or she give press conferences and return phone calls on weekends and city holidays?

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield