It appears that residents of the Towson area are once again in jeopardy of losing a valuable resource on crime. Baltimore County Police Sgt. Stephen Fink has been told to suspend distributing the "Precinct 6 Weekly Significant Events Report."
Here's an email that Fink sent out:
"Good afternoon, this week I was notified by both Captain Trentzsch and Major Jones that the Department is reviewing the practice of forwarding the PC06 Weekly Incident Report to our Community Members. As a result of this review I will not be sending out this information again until I get the okay from my Captain and Major, after they receive same from above. I apologize for the inconvenience, hopefully it's a very temporary delay and we'll be able to resume this practice quickly."
This report is nothing more than a compilation of crimes that people need to know about. The most recent, sent out Feb. 13, lists armed robberies on Goucher Boulevard and Putty Hill Avenue, and string of burglaries. The information is brief and informative, much like the old police blotters. It contains no information that would be withheld from a public police report.
Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost sent me this response when I inquired about Fink's email:
"We're working on some consistent standards and practices for provision of precinct level info communities. We absolutely want our precinct captains communicating with the public. We've been working for awhile on standards, based on the PIA, for what can and should be released."
I'm curious what information is in this weekly synopsis that can't be released to the public. Fink has been sending this out for years, but not without controversy. In 2009, residents forwarded the report to me, and when commanders learned that not only did the public have it, but so did the media, he warned his recipients that "leaks" to people outside his list would mean he'd have to stop sending the information out.
Fink wrote at the time that if The Baltimore Sun "is getting extra access to police information," other news outlets "are going to want the same thing" and "will come looking for more. ... To keep everyone on an even playing field, please keep this information to yourselves."
I wrote a column at the time, noting that it appeared to be different standards for giving information to the public and to the media.
That order was quickly rescinded by now former police spokesman Bill Toohey, who noted that making the information public means it is indeed,public. Again, this is nothing more than a brief list of crimes that occurred. It's exactly the type of information residents all over constantly clamor for, and deserve. If anything, Fink's list, which until last week went just to Towson-area residents, should serve as a model for the rest of the precincts in Baltimore County, and departments from Baltimore to Aberdeen.
Baltimore County has on its webpage what they call iWatch, which is designed to give residents up-to-date information about crime. The latest posting on iWatch was made Feb. 16, about suspects being sought in an armed robbery that occurred Feb. 1. Fink's crime list is more up to date than that. County police did inform the media about a fatal shooting in White Marsh on Saturday, and the arrest, but nothing is posted on iWatch.
We're witnessing a disturbing trend of people getting less information even as the ability to give them more greatly expands. Crime stats and information are treated like state secrets, doled out on a need to know basis.
In this case, residents are the ones who need to know.