HCSO: A Journalist’s Watering Hole

by Drew R. Hamilton

During the PAR class trip to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, J.D. Callaway, HCSO Director of Communication, and Cristal Bermudez provided an in-depth look at how journalists can best utilize public records at various county offices, county jail and the county courthouse.

I never really thought about the sheriff’s office having a public relations department.  But like every other entity in the Information Age, even the sheriff’s office can benefit by working with the press.

“Sometimes we pull the wagon; sometimes the wagon pulls us,” said Callaway, when referring to the day-to-day operations of the communication department at the HCSO.  When high-profile individuals are arrested, the communication department will sometimes anticipate the needs of journalists and make sure that there are copies of the Criminal Report Affidavit or “CRA” at the HCSO.  However, this just isn’t something that they can do for all 60,000 individuals that enter the system, per year.

Callaway explained each report and the location, where journalists can find said reports.  Journalists must be able to locate public records in order to use them.  Knowing the location of the records is half the battle.

It’s not only important to know where each record is, but knowing the ends and outs of the record can tell you a lot about the case.

Take a DUI report.  If you’re looking at a DUI report, then you know that the State Attorney’s office has deemed that they have enough evidence to prosecute the accused.

If you see in entry in the “biased” field of an arrest report, you will know that the offense was considered a hate crime.

Knowing the records, especially when the records become public, can give a journalist as much information as the copy on the page.

Having Callaway and Bermudez lay out the information landscape for our class, familiarizes the class with an often-intimidating system that we will need, in order to perform our jobs.

Published in: on February 5, 2011 at 1:45 am  Comments (2)  

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