Meridian Star

Editorials

September 8, 2013

Withholding information about burglaries bad idea

MERIDIAN —     Meridian Police Department Chief James Lee has decided to no longer release information about the location and number of burglaries that occur within the city.

    In the past, the city provided daily updates to the media on residential and commercial burglaries that had occurred. The information provided included the street and block of each burglary and was reported in the pages of The Meridian Star.

    Now, the police reports simply state, "Meridian Police are investigating several residential burglaries …" No information is provided on the number of burglaries or when and where they occurred.

    In announcing the policy change, Lee has said he does not want to tip off burglars to areas police will target in their investigations.

    "These guys do read the paper and they pay attention to what we are doing so we aren't trying to keep the public in the dark, but we are trying to keep the criminal element guessing as to what we are doing," Lee told The Meridian Star in a recent interview.

    Meridian Mayor Percy Bland told WTOK TV that the city is not trying to hide anything by withholding the information; that they are simply trying to make citizens feel more comfortable in reporting crime to the police department without fear of any information being released about the location of the crime.

    We don't understand the reasoning.

    Lee said he wants to keep criminals in the dark about what police are doing and the areas where they are concentrating their efforts. The only people in the dark now are those living within the areas being targeted by criminals. The burglars already know what neighborhoods they have hit.

    The thieves are also apparently smart enough to realize that police will be patrolling areas with frequent burglaries, since the break-ins appear to shift from one neighborhood to another on a regular basis.

    We also doubt the young teenagers responsible for the bulk of burglaries are reading The Meridian Star or watching the nightly local TV news to find out where the burglaries have occurred. What would be the point? As we've already stated — they already know.

    Furthermore, so what if the thieves did read about the burglaries or catch a news broadcast on television? What are they going to learn?

    If anything, the media blackout is helping the burglars. Residents informed that their neighborhood is being targeted by thieves are going to be more alert and more cautious. They are going to make sure their cars, windows and doors are locked. They are going to take precautions. Perhaps they will buy that alarm system they have wanted to purchase but have put off, or hide their valuables and install heavier deadbolts.

    Most importantly, people who know their neighborhoods are being targeted by thieves are going to be more suspicious at the presence of unknown persons and will be much more likely to call police.

    And people who do call police want to read in the paper that police responded to their neighborhood.

    As for Bland's statement that people would feel more comfortable calling in crimes if they didn't have to worry about the location of the crime being reported, we don't see it. The police department has never provided exact addresses of burglaries. In the past, a police report might say, "Meridian police responded to a residential burglary in the 600 block of 23rd Street Sunday night."            

    We are not alone in questioning the new policy. In an online readers' poll in The Meridian Star, 90 percent of respondents said they think the decision to withhold information about burglaries is a bad idea.

    On another note, the decision just does not look good. In his election campaign, Bland vowed to uphold openness and transparency in running the city if elected.

    The Meridian Star had a long running problem with the Meridian Police Department in obtaining the addresses and dates of birth of those arrested by police under former Mayor Cheri Barry's administration. Without that information, in a hypothetical example, we had no way of knowing if the person arrested was 32-year-old "John Smith" who lived on 23rd Avenue or 61-year-old "John Smith" who lived on 43rd Street.

    We had hoped for better under Bland's administration.

    Based on comments on social media websites there is a perception by some residents that the new policy is an attempt to conceal the number of burglaries within the city.

    We don't share those beliefs. But a policy that builds distrust will not help the city. Bland has said all along that he needs the public's help in combating crime and trust is a big part of garnering community support.

    We hope our new mayor and police chief will reconsider their policy on releasing information on burglaries within the city. We would encourage our readers to contact the mayor and police chief to let them know how they feel about the policy — good or bad.

    

    Let us know how you feel as well. Additionally, if your home is burglarized, feel free to contact The Meridian Star Editor Michael Stewart by phone at 601-693-1551 or by email at editor@themeridianstar.com and if we can get the crime verified, we will run the

information in the paper.

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