An FOI request to lift the lid on the things press offices try to keep quiet

policetapeDid you hear the one about the Norfolk police dog which was sent on a training course after it killed a cat while pursuing a burglar, and then killed a sheep in a field too?

Readers of the East Anglian Daily Times have, but only thanks to one of the most inspired Freedom of Information requests I’ve seen in quite a while.

Details of the cat-killing cop dog (presumably the cat wasn’t the criminal, unless it was a cat burglar) emerged after the EADT put in an FOI request to Norfolk Police asking for copies of all statements prepared by the police press office to be released on an ‘if asked’ basis.

‘If asked statements’ will be familiar to many journalists. They are a clever way to be ready to manage a news story but not actually alert the media to it. Authorities which dabble in them perhaps need to ask themselves how transparent they are about their operations with the public.

There is also a certain irony to a police force using ‘if asked’ media statements for a story like this, as it smacks of ‘confess if caught’ – a position you’d presume Norfolk Police would frown upon from a suspected criminal.

In the case of the EADT article, no further details of ‘if asked’ media statements are reported – but you can read their FOI here. There are 22 pages of them, and reading through them, I’m a little surprised that Norfolk wasn’t releasing the comments as press releases anyway.

There’s also a similar FOI request from the Police Oracle publication from last summer. For some reason, Norfolk Police felt that crime prevention advice ahead of the Olympic Torch Relay should only be released if requested.

All very odd (on the part of the police, in my opinion) but a superb FOI which demonstrates the benefit of knowing how the organisation you are covering operates, and then deploying an FOI request carefully.

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