BALOG COLUMN: What's point of hiding crime info?
At the same time Charleston police were working out new ways to keep the public in the dark about important details in crimes, they also were announcing that rapes have increased in the city.
2011 saw violent crime decrease in Charleston, with a few exceptions, including sexual assaults, which rose to 30 from 26 in 2010, according to a Jan. 20 Charleston Police press release.
That same memo says the department "will continue to work with local partners to seek ways to address this troubling crime, while patrol officers and detectives work to teach our citizens about how they can avoid risky behavior that can lessen their chances of becoming a victim."
By the way, "risky behavior" apparently means drinking, as alcohol was listed as a contributing factor in many cases. Whether this means that a woman who wants to avoid rape should abstain from drinking remains to be seen, depending on what kinds of "comprehensive strategy" the department plans to work out.
Yet a week before this release went out, the department was looking at ways to keep suspects' identifying information out of police reports and away from the public and the media.
Something doesn't add up there.
Let the public help
As Glenn Smith reported Saturday, a Jan. 12 internal police memo was encouraging officers to keep identifying information out of their initial reports. "If your mother was the victim, what information would you want shielded from the public?" the memo asks.
How about every available piece of information police have about the suspect?
Why wouldn't you want the public to know everything they possibly could so that if they saw that person, they could alert police?
In 2008, the police were similarly unforthcoming about a rash of sex assaults around the College of Charleston. Why would police not want to put out information that could help catch a criminal, as well as protect the public?
One step up, two steps back
In January, the definition of rape was updated to be more comprehensive. "This new definition will encourage victims, empower law enforcement, and build public awareness about a devastating crime," National Center for Victims of Crime Executive Director Mai Fernandez said Jan. 6. The same release quoted the head of the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women saying that the new law sends a message that victims will be supported and perpetrators held accountable.
How, exactly, does hiding information from the public correspond to holding perpetrators accountable and support victims?
The same Jan. 20 crime report press release contains this directive: "During 2012, it is imperative that the Department continue to foster its relationship with the community to gain trust, support, and cooperation so that crimes can be prevented."
It's going to be hard to foster a relationship of trust with the community when you don't even trust the public enough to give them information about crime suspects.