There has been frustration in recent months with some of our coverage. Some of it is justified but there are elements of what we present to you that we feel is important for you to see. As is.
First, let us address some of the broader concerns. We often use this space to rail against local boards and public officials who forget their duty to the public and conduct their business in secrecy, or at least outside the realm of the state’s public meeting laws.
In our job as watchdog, it is apropos for us to point out when that process has gone astray and is no longer working in the public interest. It is our job to know public information.
So that is why, to our dismay and the dismay of our readers, that there has become increasing concern over coverage of local crimes. We share the aggravation, and we feel it is important for you, as taxpayers and consumers, to understand that — like at the local municipal level — there are people involved in law enforcement who believe less is more.
Fewer than 20 years ago, journalists were walking into police or sheriff’s departments to review the daily log — the public report detailing the calls to which the agency responded. It was everything from an animal control issue, to assisting another local agency, to a disturbance or crime. The log was reviewed by the journalist (acting as the eyes and ears of the public), and then the items of importance were reviewed with a supervising officer, or the police report was produced for more information.
Now, police logs in most agencies are a joke. And we have made a conscious decision that if law enforcement agencies do not want us to see what they are doing, or they are going to redact or withhold information from the media (using myriad excuses and exemptions), we are going to provide our audience with what the agencies feel the public needs to know.
Clearly, that is not much.
The days of reading an accounting of local police calls no longer tells you in which neighborhood there were vehicle break-ins or drug activity. The days of getting the answer to “why were the police on my street last Saturday” is filed away under “suspicious activity.” Our personal favorite is, “Something was lost or found in the city.” We really can’t tell the public that a set of keys might have been dropped, and maybe the owner — who lost them — might be able to find them at the police station?
On an almost daily basis, our reporters have to quibble and haggle and even threaten to file public records requests in order to pry information out of police — information that would only help the communities they serve to better understand what local policing really looks like. Yes, there are overdoses and petty crimes, vandalism and retail thefts. But that is all information. A lot of it may not feel like “the big arrest” or the headline grabber, but it is all part of gathering facts. And without complete (or even marginal information), people fill in the blanks on their own with assumptions. We all know the saying about that. Throw social media into the mix when there is a lack of information or a delay in reporting events, and it compounds the frustration the community has with a level of chaos due to misinformation created by people who don’t know the facts.
Some individuals in the community have become so frustrated with our coverage that they have created social media accounts that post that emergency vehicles were seen heading in one direction or another, followed by the question: Anyone know what’s going on? It’s even less responsible than scanner hounds.
But what is really frustrating to us is the fact that there are still police departments around Vermont — many who are using the same system used by cities and large towns — who continue to provide ample information about the goings on around town. And they do so willingly, and provide the public with a truly meaningful representation of how the public is being protected and served.
We will continue to publish the pathetic reports that your local police departments consider worthy of your attention with the full understanding that what you see is what we get.
And we know you deserve better. It’s our job to.