Reminiscing last week about how our newspapers have changed over the years, I teased a minor but important upcoming change, and here it is: Starting now, our coverage of police activity will be “booked” every week on page two.
We’ve seen law enforcement’s role grow and change and shift in the past few years, while our diligence in bringing readers insight into local crimes hasn’t been the best. Some weeks, for a laundry list of reasons and despite our best intentions, police report write-ups have been pushed back and back and back in the pages until they simply didn’t make the paper.
I believe we can’t have a well-informed citizenry without talking about crime. It’s far too easy in our nice white picket fence towns to pretend it doesn’t exist. I know, crime is the ugly side of our communities, but you can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge it.
Take a glance over this week’s blotter and you’ll see there are problems. In Amherst, we have heroin overdoses and stolen chainsaws; in Oberlin, we have suspicious injuries and a child threatening to cut herself; and in Wellington, we have thefts and break-ins.
These are sad cases when each read by themselves. When you look at them in batches as we do, you start to see the creeping sickness eating away at our neighborhoods.
My first desire was to promise to place police reports on the front page. I thought the best way to make it clear to readers that police reports are a priority would be to anchor them in the most visible spot. For many reasons, this proved to be a very bad idea.
Nor can I promise that we will get the reports on page two without fail. Sometimes, in the event of special coverage (high school graduations, the Lorain County Fair, or major disasters for example) we might throw our normal templates out and do what makes the best sense for the stories and photos.
I’m hoping that won’t happen often. Generally, I want those police reports on the second page about 48 weeks out of the year.
This move also ties into our commitment to defend public records access under the Ohio Sunshine Laws.
See, you own most government documents and can request to immediately inspect them. That’s true of police reports, the fire chief’s salary, court filings, internal memos, engineering plans and drawings, studies — many, many documents. There used to be few exceptions to what is considered “public,” and that list has grown and mutated in recent years.
We pledge to do our best to keep police reports as open as possible, though we sometimes do encounter problems and lodge complaints. We respect our police officers and have found they are nearly always happy to work with us to ensure compliance with Ohio records laws. Unfortunately, that has not proven the case in many areas of the state where secrecy has become the norm.
And finally, if we cannot provide readers with reports, we plan to tell you exactly why.