I've been writing for quite some time about the community liaison in the Baltimore County Police Department's Towson Precinct and his efforts to share crime news with the public.
He had for years emailed out a list of incidents, much coveted by residents who want to know what's going on, but in recent months its been a series of fits and starts. He had to stop, then start again, and then stop again this week.
Commanders were concerned that some of the details might compromise investigations, as his list was an basically an internal police memo. I argued for a long time that the sergeant's list, rather than being stopped, should be duplicated in all county precincts, and copied in the city as well. It was just the kind of crime blotter news people love, and need.
This week, the cops in Baltimore County introduced a revamped version of the crime blotter -- a weekly list published on each of the nine precinct's websites. The sergeants email explaining this noted that the information would first be vetted by commanders and the public relations staff, and I wondered in this space on Thursday what would be missing.
(When Dick Irwin compiled his popular crime blotter, a retired city police officer said, after retiring, that they told Dick about some of the crime, but not all, to ensure a particular district didn't look too bad).
Elise Armacost, the top police spokesman for Baltimore County, send me a detailed response explaining how the new system works. She assured me that every crime that commanders list for each other will be listed for the public.
Here is a list of links to each precinct;
- Precinct 1/Wilkens, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct1
- Precinct 2/Woodlawn, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct2
- Precinct 3/Franklin, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct3
- Precinct 4/Pikesville, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct4
- Precinct 6/Towson, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct6
- Precinct 7/Cockeysville, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct7
- Precinct 8/Parkville, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct8
- Precinct 9/White Marsh, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct9
- Precinct 11/Essex, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct11
- Precinct 12/North Point, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/precinct12
Here the response from Elise Armacsot:
While your blog today accurately reflects our efforts to make more information available to more people, it makes some assumptions that are not accurate. I would really appreciate it if you would clarify to our constituents the following issues about our precinct-level news efforts:
1. In posting the crime blotter news, we are using the significant events report that is sent each week from the captains up their commanders. This is the same information that Sgt. Fink has been sending. We are posting everything on the report with the exception of domestic situations where serious injury did not occur and cases that have been found by CID detectives to have not occurred as initially reported. For example, one of the significant events reports this week listed the attempted kidnapping of a child. But before we released the information, detectives determined that there was no attempted kidnapping; a babysitter simply didn't recognize neighbors who stopped on the street to check on the child. We didn't include that in the online blotter.
It's also possible that we wouldn't post every single event if we had a week when the number of events was sp great that posting them all was unmanageable, given our resources; happily, that does not appear to be a likely occurrence. Even if it happened, we still would note the total number of crimes for the week.
We are vetting the information on the significant crime report only for unchecked leads and information that may compromise open investigations. The event itself goes in the blotter, unless it is one of the exceptions I described above. Some weeks, a precinct may have two significant events, in which case that's what we'll post. If they have 20, we'll post all of them.
I would note that reporters who pick up local crimes at the station often don't print every single crime in their blotters. They choose the most newsworthy. The Police Department is doing better than that; we're sharing whatever we get in the significant events report.
2. Towson hasn't been the only precinct sending out information to constituents. I know that Cockeysville and White Marsh have as well. Those captains deserve some credit, too.
3. The precincts will provide the content, so the pages likely will vary. Already, Captain Davis in Precinct 2 has posted his own message. I expect that some precinct captains will supply us with more information that others (though they all will send the weekly crime report). The point is that we are not imposing uniformity. The goal here is news you can use that reflects the needs and character of each precinct, and the desires of the officers in each particular precinct. Some will be comfortable with more, some with less.
4. You wrote today that our commanders changed their minds about the Towson precinct's community emails after you wrote about it on Feb. 21. That's not true. As I told you in my email dated Feb. 21, the Acting Colonel in charge of operations told the captains on Friday, Feb. 17 to continue sending their information -- three days before you wrote about it. It's not fair to our department to make it look like we were pressured into taking action that, in fact, we took on our own.
We believe in transparency and the public's right to know; that's certainly the philosophy I work from as director of this office and a former journalist. There are plenty of tools that allow us to provide news directly to our citizens, and we intend to use them.