In the last six months, Norfolk and Virginia Beach have experienced dozens of shootings.
Sometimes the public finds out about the incidents within an hour — sometimes it’s the next day.
Southside Daily set out to find out why, and compiled police news releases, social media posts, and articles from other local news outlets that first announced the incidents to determine how long it took the public to find out about each shootings.
Southside Daily contacted the public information officers for both the Virginia Beach and Norfolk Police departments to comment on our findings, and the two departments both responded in their own ways.
Public announcement times from both departments varied, ranging anywhere between 28 minutes to 37 hours. The reasons for such wide variations involve a web of considerations including date, time of day, type of incident, and what impact a public announcement may have on an investigation.
This article focuses on Norfolk Police Department’s response and the context that accounts for their announcement times. Southside Daily analyzed the time it took the NPD to publicly announce 26 shootings since Aug. 30, 2018.
A story on the Virginia Beach Police announcement times will be forthcoming.
In the conference call with Norfolk Police spokesman Cpl. William Pickering, the NPD shed light on their motives, considerations, and why one shooting incident took 37 hours before police notified the public.
Time of day has a lot to do with it.
Incidents between 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., on weekends, or holidays do not require police to respond to media inquires nor regularly announce incidents to the public, according to Norfolk Police Public Information guidelines.
However, when a Public Information Officer is notified of a “significant event” during those times, the PIO is considered “activated” and required to respond.
Significant events include all homicides, life-threatening gunshot wounds, hostage barricade, police shootings, bomb threats, bank robberies, traffic fatalities, terrorists attacks, and large evacuations. View full details on the NPD’s notification guidelines here.
Not all crimes meet those thresholds such as an incident at Scotty Quixx on Jan. 20 at 1:26 a.m., Pickering said.
That morning, someone was shot in the leg and police took a suspect into custody shortly thereafter, according to a news release from police. Still, police didn’t notify the public of the shooting until Jan. 21 at 2:56 p.m. — 37 hours later.
“Someone shot in the hand or leg, that is not life threatening, so we won’t put an announcement out,” Pickering said, adding police still take investigations of non-life threatening gunshot wounds seriously.
Officer Daniel Hudson, another Norfolk Police spokesman on the conference call with Pickering, said because the Scotty Quixx shooting happened late and the following day was Martin Luther King Day — that police were not required to notify the public that day or night. That explains the 37-hour gap between incident and public disclosure, Pickering said.
Pickering is a former homicide investigator who said announcing a homicide, versus announcing the arrest of a homicide suspect, are two very different considerations.
“There is certain information that if we were to put it out to the public, it could jeopardize our case,” Pickering said. “So if we put out that an individual has been arrested, it may prevent witnesses from coming forward who may have assisted us with our investigation.”
Another consideration is if the police release a photo of a suspect prematurely, it could also negatively affect the jury pool.
An attorney could say that police “directed witnesses to this suspect,” Pickering said, providing defense attorneys ammunition to challenge a witness’s veracity in court.
“We don’t want the release of that information to affect a witness’s ability to make a sound decision or judgement on who the suspect is,” Pickering said.
“Our goal is to make sure that we put out crime and safety information to our community as soon as possible,” Pickering said. “We also want to make sure that we are factual and credible when we do it.”