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Citizens have a right to know what’s going on in their community | Publisher's Column
Sheriff’s and police blotters can be an entertaining part of the newspaper.
However, they also serve a number of important purposes, among them informing residents about what’s happening in their back yards … perhaps even their front yards.
I thought about this the other night.
It was about 2 or 2:30 a.m., and I awoke to notice headlights peaking through the bedroom blinds. The lights were bright, and they remained stationary for several minutes, though I could hear the car’s engine idling.
I live in a very quiet neighborhood in unincorporated Island County, so I decided to get up and check it out.
It struck me odd that the car idled in front of the house two doors up, then pulled up in front of the house next door.
Was my house next?
I flipped on the front porch lights and watched.
The strange car quickly pulled into the driveway across the street, backed out and sped away.
It was not one of our newspaper carriers. The paper didn’t come out till the next day, Saturday. It was, however, garbage day. The cans were lined up along the road awaiting pickup later that morning.
I lost sleep fretting about this.
Is it possible that someone is driving through neighborhoods, picking through garbage cans for personal information … or food? The former is somewhat alarming, though I don’t leave personal info in my garbage. The latter was rather sad as it was just after Thanksgiving.
Either way, I thought, “how would I know what’s happening in my neighborhood.” The Island County Sheriff’s Department does not make its full crime report available, not anymore.
As I tossed and turned, I thought, “I wouldn’t know if this was a problem.” The crime reports are provided by the sheriff’s department on an irregular basis, and they contain scant information.
If there is a problem with people getting into people’s trash, there’s nothing to tell me that. If I called to report the suspicious activity, would anyone benefit since little is shared with the community?
The lack of information is, I believe, a disservice, not just to our readers, but to the community as a whole.
This was a concern I shared directly with Sheriff Mark Brown recently during a luncheon.
Crime reports, as mundane as they may seem on their surface, tell a story. They provide the readers with an overview of what kind of crime activity is taking place in their communities, possibly in their own neighborhoods.
When I covered the Island County Sheriff’s Department as a crime reporter, I was placed at the computer and allowed to scroll through each call that was received. I collected a reasonable random sampling, and even mentioned if there were false reports. Some of the entries might be humorous, some were very serious.
The point was, I was able to share this information with the readers. The community was informed. People read the blotters and responded positively to them.
During that time, I learned how much crime deputies respond to … and how hard they work. The current blotter provided by the sheriff’s department is clearly scrubbed of much of its useful information.
Having blotter information in the newspaper also serves some purposes for the sheriff’s department. First, when it comes time to ask for more taxpayer dollars, they can refer to the kinds of calls they are responding to. Currently, if the sheriff’s blotter we receive is any gauge, it shows a few minor incidents are being reported.
Can that be correct? Is that all there is?
If I were asking for more money, I’d want to present the best case possible and show what we’re doing.
Also, blotter items can lead to tips. If there are others who witnessed unusual or suspicious activities, a mention in the blotter can yield new information.
Ultimately, the sheriff’s department and employees work for the taxpayers. There is no excuse for withholding blotter information. It all falls under the realm of public information.
As we enter a new year, I’m hoping Sheriff Brown sees the importance of keeping the community informed and provides the newspaper with greater access to information about what’s happening across the island.
The public deserves to know what’s going on in their community.
-Keven R. Graves is editor and publisher for the Whidbey News-Times. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org