Over the past couple of years, as tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve have grown, there have been concerted efforts by law enforcement agencies throughout the country to strengthen those relationships.
Police departments have made it a priority to emphasize to the public that they need citizens help in making communities safer.
Of course, some do a better job of that than others. Columbus, in particular, seems to have made a real effort in reaching out to the community since the 2015 officer-involved shooting death of Ricky Ball.
The CPD’s efforts to engage with residents through traditional media and social media have not gone unnoticed. They do this in an effort to keep the public informed on what is happening and solicit their help in fighting crime.
We see a different level of commitment by the Starkville Police Department, however.
The SPD has consistently been slow to inform its residents on crime, has provided severely limited information on crimes and seems reluctant to provide useful information to the public, even when it is seeking the public’s assistance in catching criminals.
We are at a loss to understand why this should be the case.
One possible explanation is that the SPD fails to understand the importance of involving and informing the public.
The best way of communicating a disappearing person or an armed robbery to a large audience is directly online and through the media. In fact, that is primary function of the media – informing the public.
If law enforcement is indeed serious about engaging with citizens and soliciting their help when needed, they will be most effective when they work with the media. In these circumstances, law enforcement and media must rely on each other to achieve that end. One cannot do it without the cooperation of the other.
We understand that there is some information that cannot be shared – details that could endanger citizens or compromise criminal investigations.
Yet, when police departments are reluctant to share even the most innocuous, basic information and are slow to share information of any sort — as SPD has been — we fail to see how anyone benefits.
We urge the Starkville Police Department to follow the recent example set by the Columbus Police Department in effectively communicating with the public through the media and online. The media is willing to work toward the common goal of providing citizens the information they need and have every right to expect.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.