Common sense solves problems

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rick Couch / News editor

This week, the Criminal Justice Information Center Commission in Montgomery is expected to decide whether or not crime victims names should be moved to the back of police reports.

The changes would prevent victim names, addresses, telephone numbers and other personal information about victims from becoming public information.

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The argument from law enforcement offices that support the change is simple. By concealing this information, they hope to protect victims.

This is not an unreasonable demand. In certain situations it is important to keep this information away from criminals who may wish to strike again, or exact revenge on the people who sent them away. This doesn’t just happen on television and in movies, it is a very real threat.

On the other side, there is the media. Their complaints to the commission are the public has a right to know what is going on in their communities. They say it is their duty to report the details of crimes and feel the changes will hamper their abilities to do this. To a certain extent, they also have a reasonable argument.

The plan is expected to be approved or denied today.

Both sides have a legitimate argument, but what the new rule really comes down to is common sense and trust. It is no secret that media outlets and law enforcement do not always see eye to eye on certain issues. In many cases, reporters believe it is their sworn duty to demand information and give law enforcement agencies a hard time. The result is usually the agency becoming reluctant to talk to the media for fear of twisted words or giving out too much information.

The same is true for police reports. There are certain situations where officers do not wish to release certain information of crime victims for fear of jeopardizing their safety.

This is where common sense comes into the picture. Common sense tells you that in certain situations, especially where juveniles are involved, there is no need to put information in a story. The most important information is that of the criminal.

After all, in cases such as an attempted murder, rape or assault many times the victim has done nothing wrong. They are simply people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In some cases, this mutual understanding has not been honored and the result is the new rule, which will build yet another barrier between law enforcement and the media. All it really takes is a mutual respect from law enforcement and the media to bring these barriers down.

Don’t get me wrong; there is no reason for a reporter to ever withhold information on a story. For them to do so would not be reporting at all. It would be more like telling a story the way they feel it should be told, which is known as editorializing. This is a poor way to get information to the public and extremely irresponsible.

There is a way to get the important information out there, tell both sides of the story and protect victims of violent crimes.

It all seems very simple, but it isn’t. There is a constant pressure to break the big story and bring forth information other outlets don’t have. The trick is doing so, while exercising common sense.