Timing isn’t everything: VBPD, like Norfolk, have much to consider when alerting the public

VIRGINIA BEACH — In the second part of a two-part series, Southside Daily surveyed the reports of shootings here to shed light on police department procedures for informing the public about shootings in the city.

Southside Daily 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.

We studied 18 shootings in Virginia Beach since Aug. 30, 2018, and contacted the public information officers for both the Virginia Beach and Norfolk Police departments to comment on our findings — we published our findings about the Norfolk Police Tuesday.

Virginia Beach had less shootings during those six months than the Norfolk,  according to Southside Daily’s research. Like Norfolk Police, the Virginia Beach also had a wide range of announcement times — or the duration between when police become aware of a shooting and when police notify the public. The VBPD also has after-hours notification guidelines similar to those followed by their counterparts in Norfolk.

Announcement times ranged from 33 minutes to 3 hours and 39 minutes, and Southside Daily set out to uncover what factors contribute to the time it takes police to alert the public about shootings.

The longest announcement time — 3 hours and 39 minutes — came after an officer-involved shooting on Feb. 9. The first officers arrived on scene at 11:05 a.m., according to a timeline of the police response provided by police spokeswoman Tonya Pierce.

In that particular case, negotiations between the suspect and police were required. Those negotiations proceeded for two-and-a-half hours until 1:34 p.m., when police shot the suspect, according to a news release from police.

A police PIO was notified of the incident at 1:40 p.m., was on the scene at 2:30 p.m., and sent out the first Tweet about the incident at 2:40 p.m. In this situation, those negotiations and PIO travel time to the scene accounted for nearly all of the time it took police to notify the public.

Sometimes media outlets are the first to inform the public of a shooting.

On Oct. 11, 2018 at 11:20 p.m., police were involved in a shooting with two men suspected of armed robbery. Although information about the incident was posted on the city’s website at Oct. 12 at 2 a.m. and on Twitter at noon, other news outlets were able to publish stories on the shooting before the police put out information themselves.

Related story: It took Norfolk Police 37 hours to tell the public about this shooting — but perhaps for good reasons

According to a packet of news articles provided by police, a staff writer for local TV news outlet published an article on the shooting at 12:40 a.m. on Oct. 12, more than an hour before the police posted a news release and prior to the police contacting that news outlet at 12:55 a.m., according to a police timeline of their response.

Tonya Pierce, another police spokeswoman, said “the media monitor our radios, we are often called about an incident the media is alerted to by what they hear on the radio.”

Police announcement times for shootings on the Southside vary, as do the reasons for those times. From the legal considerations of suspects, to PIO travel time, to standoffs with suspects — all appear to contribute to police decisions to make public information about shootings in the area.

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