The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department, like other government departments and businesses that put out press releases, wants to get media coverage.
However, a new warning that now comes with all press releases from the county’s Sheriff’s Department may have local reporters scratching their heads and thinking twice about using the press release. That’s because each press release from the department now includes a message that the information is “Law Enforcement Sensitive” and that disseminating the included information in any way is “strictly forbidden.”
Beginning just over a month ago, all press releases from the Sheriff’s Department – material that the department is unquestionably eager to get out to the public – now comes with a very stern warning that the recipient had better not share the information or else.
For instance, just before Thanksgiving, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department sent out a press release announcing that the department was giving out 100 Thanksgiving meals to needy families. The release announcing that event came with the following dire warning: “This document is the property of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office and is marked Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES). Further dissemination of this document is strictly forbidden except to other law enforcement agencies for criminal law enforcement purposes. The preceding and following information must be handled and protected accordingly.”
Also, a “Confidentiality Notice” adds in bright red lettering, “This e-mail, including any attachments, is intended for the sole use of the addressee(s) and may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information.”
The warning now shows up on all press releases from the department including those seeking the public’s help on solving crimes and a recent announcement that the department had just been accredited by the country’s foremost accreditation organization for law enforcement agencies.
The warning to media outlets and reporters could be a simple oversight due to the fact that 99.99 percent of the department’s email doesn’t consist of press releases and is meant to be kept private. It’s highly unlikely any media members will be arrested for reporting on a press release from the department, but the message does create an interesting juxtaposition since guarding information tightly and reporting on a press release call for diametrically opposed actions.
This isn’t the first time the warning has shown up on the Sheriff’s Department press releases. When former Sheriff BJ Barnes was sheriff, the same message was also attached to press releases for a short period of time until the oversight was called to the department’s attention and corrected.