A major change is in store for the way the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) communicates with reporters and the public.
On Friday morning, the Minneapolis City Council voted to eliminate the position of public information officer (PIO) from the MPD. The vote was 9-3.
The job of speaking to reporters about local crimes and other developments — a duty which includes issuing press releases and public statements — will fall to the city's communications department on September 30 of this year.
MPD's public information office has faced criticism over a May 25 press release in which it described the death of George Floyd as a "medical incident."
Floyd died that day after Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes, leading to the filing of murder charges against Chauvin as well as the other officers at the scene.
Two council members mentioned the controversial press release in a recent interview with WCCO, saying it raised “problems with accuracy" as well as issues with perceived "bias of the way information is reported."
The council's decision has generated a backlash of its own, however.
After it was proposed this week, the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists publicly called on the council to reject the move, saying city communications officials — who will be inheriting the PIO's duties — are "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?
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a statement defending the PIO position, making it clear he did not agree with the council's decision to eliminate it.
Arradondo also acknowledged the service of John Elder — MPD's current director of public information — saying the department has been "lucky" to have him "as the face and voice of an organization of 1,000 dedicated public servants."
Elder has served in that role or as PIO since 2017.