April 20, 2014

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An Overdue "Thank You" To Local Law Enforcement Agencies

Some long overdue changes in how they deal with us, and with local news media.

It has often-and quite accurately-been said that the news media should have an "adversarial" relationship with the people it covers.

But that doesn't mean the two parties have to hate each other, or avoid one another.

WTAP has, in the past, covered and even investigated alleged misconduct by law enforcement members. In every case, this was a matter of a few "bad apples" rather than a problem with an entire agency.  In one case I remember, this led for a while to a difficult relationship with one agency and the person who ran it.

In another instance from years earlier, a local newspaper was constantly at odds with an area police chief, and in some cases, his department. It all had to do with the chief's control over what information about incidents was released and how it was released.  Although I stayed out of this "feud", it was a matter I had difficulty with as well.

At one time, we had difficulty getting information on even routine arrests, accidents and similar cases out of local law enforcement. Things are improving.  Not only for us, but, I trust, the local media in general.

Part of this is thanks to e-mail and even social media.  Police agencies can get information out a lot more easily to a variety of local media and, thus, to the general public, simply by e-mailing statements.

And some of these agencies have even appointed people whose job in part involves dealing with the media.  I'll cite two examples.

Not long after Joe Martin became Parkersburg's police chief, he assigned Sgt. Greg Collins as a Public Information Officer (also known as a PIO), and that's why you see Sgt. Collins on a large number of our news stories.

And earlier this year, when Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt returned to office, he appointed Shawn Graham as Chief Deputy.  A portion of Lt. Graham's duties is speaking with the media on arrests and investigations.  (I should point out former sheriff Jeff Sandy also was accessible by the press on a variety of cases.)

Both the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Marietta Police Department send out daily reports on cases, as well as individual press releases.

This past summer, General Manager Roger Sheppard, News Director John Fortney and I met with local and state representatives of the West Virginia State Police to discuss ways that agency can improve its relations with us.  I hope this has benefits as well.

In order to inform the public of what's going on, we have to "dig" for information, but good relations with local law enforcement, while it has a tough job to do, is an important element of being able to do our job.

I hope the encouraging things that have happened in recent years with the area's law enforcement agencies continue-regardless of who is in charge of them.

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