Police in St. Louis, MO, will soon be required to read and acknowledge monthly reports reiterating that journalists aren’t their enemies and should be allowed to do their goddamned jobs without being arrested after a number of high-profile run-ins with working journalists.
According to an order obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the city’s police officers will be instructed to allow journalists access to cover police actions and to be granted further permissions based on the discretion of the officer in charge at the scene.
The order cautions that:
News media will be given every consideration by Department members so that they may perform their news-gathering function; however, they are not entitled to interfere with an officer’s performance of duty or the safety of citizens.
In addition to being required to read and acknowledge the new orders on a monthly basis, the SLMPD will also reportedly increase the amount of training officers receive in how to interact with the press.
This new policy stems largely from longstanding complaints by journalists and press freedom advocates against the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department—most recently during the September protests following the acquittal of former officer Jason Stockley, who was charged with first degree murder for the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, an unarmed black man. During those protests, observers claimed journalists were specifically targeted for arrest by the SLMPD, including The Young Turks reporter Jordan Chariton and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk.
It was Faulk’s arrest that prompted a sit-down meeting between Post-Dispatch editor Mayor Lyda Krewson and Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole to discuss the department’s treatment of journalists.
In his report about the new policy, Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon said:
The Post-Dispatch is encouraged that St. Louis city leaders have listened to our concerns about journalists being able to do their jobs amid an environment that protects them from unwarranted arrests and physical abuse. We are hopeful this new approach will lead to a safe environment for all journalists to provide essential news coverage for the public.
The new policy also comes as a federal judge harshly criticized the police department’s handling of the September protests—particularly their use of chemical irritants and the controversial practice of “kettling,” a crowd control technique used to contain and arrest activists.