Real crime is not like an episode of “Law and Order,” where all the details fall quickly, logically into place. Often, it takes a considerable amount of investigation to unravel crimes in a way that can be easily understood and shared with the public.
In informing the public, there is also another factor to consider. Some details are withheld from the public in the legitimate fear that providing that information might compromise an ongoing investigation of the crime in question.
Citizens generally understand all this.
What citizens of Columbus have been told is that, given the spike in crime we have recently seen, efforts to keep the public informed have become a high priority.
On March 23, CPD Chief Fred Shelton said, in response to heightened fears in the community, his department would put together a weekly crime blotter accessible on the department’s Facebook and Twitter pages, but as of today – 34 days later – the department has yet to make good on that.
In the meantime, news of violent crimes is provided to local media as it happens.
On Saturday morning, the city’s public information officer Joe Dillon informed The Dispatch of a shooting incident on Bluecutt Road. Details, he said, would be forthcoming later in the day. No additional information was provided Saturday, and on Sunday afternoon, Shelton said in a text that the department was working on a press release.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon — four days after the incident — that any details on what is now believed to be two related shootings — one Friday, another on Saturday.
While we understand that the CPD cannot release information it doesn’t yet have or that some discretion must be employed to avoid compromising an investigation, the complete “radio silence” on Friday’s shooting is unacceptable.
At a time when violent crime is a major concern of the citizenry, leaving the public in the dark and allowing incidents to churn through the rumor mill only creates more confusion and fear.
The CPD has said it believes keeping the public informed about crime is important.
But, in this case, there is a disconnect between what CPD said is a vigorous effort to inform the public and what it has actually practiced.
We urge the CPD to provide information on crime in a timely manner.
Incidents such as shootings are “bad news,” but they are important news and news where citizens are heavily invested.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.