Concern About Police Secrecy = “Tilting at Windmills”?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

My column this week was about the continuing secrecy of Virginia’s largest police departments and the way the state’s law enforcement community is opposing efforts to make the departments even marginally more transparent. The journalist sounding the alarm about all of this is Michael Pope, who writes for Northern Virginia’s Connection Newspapers, and contributes to D.C. NPR affiliate WAMU.

But Pope’s series of articles inspired this strange reaction from the editor of the Sun Gazette, another Northern Virginia regional paper (motto: “Reaching the most affluent audience in the Washington D.C. metro area”).

Stop Tilting at Windmills, Connectionerinos

The Connection newspaper chain, which is hanging in there by seemingly defying the laws of economics, has a new cause to champion.

The paper’s Arlington edition, and presumably others, ran a story this week about the ability of Virginia’s public-safety agencies to shield information from the view of the public and the press.

I think this whole folderol dates back to last year’s arrest of the Alexandria police chief on a DWI charge in Arlington. Let’s just say Arlington police weren’t as forthcoming as they might have been, going so far as to charge news outlets for costs related to providing some of the meager information they released.

The back story to this appears to be that the reporter involved with this story used to work in Florida (as did I!), where open-records laws are great for the press. Just about everything is open to public review down there.

But the article goes a bit too far with a sub-headline that says “Secret Police?” as if Northern Virginia was akin to East Germany, and terms what public-safety agencies do a “code of silence.”

Blah, blah, blah, blah. Nobody cares except some freedom-of-the-press types. Hey, I’m a freedom-of-the-press type, and even I don’t care all that much.

Actually, the “whole folderol” took off when Fairfax County police shot and killed an unarmed man during a traffic stop last year, and have since refused to release the police reports, dash cam footage, or even the officer’s name.

But, you know, dead citizen, cops not talking . . . blah blah blah blah. Better to devote precious newsroom resources to the important stuff, like the local mini-golf tournament, or how the local police department won an award for ticketing people who don’t wear their seatbelts.


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32 Responses to “Concern About Police Secrecy = “Tilting at Windmills”?”

  1. #1 |  durpderderrr | 

    This guy come from a cop family or something? You know, newspapers arnt doing so well these days. Maybe the fact that the editors display astounding ignorance, like this, is partially why?

  2. #2 |  David McElroy | 

    As a former editor and publisher of several community newspapers, I’m appalled at what the editor of the Sun Gazette wrote. The only thing I can think of is that he’s sucking up to somebody who he relies on, either a news source or advertisers. It’s VERY clear that he doesn’t have the best interests of his READERS in mind. It’s scary when even people in the press don’t take freedom of the press seriously. :-(

  3. #3 |  Aresen | 

    Who is the author of that article?

    It goes beyond “badge licking” to “there is no cop shit I won’t swallow.”

  4. #4 |  M | 

    I have no problem with the stance of editorial as I think the majority of people feel the same way even if I disagree. The tack the guy took in insulting his competing papers and not just the particular reporting on this issue sounded scummy. Obviously people care if he’s willing to spend time and ink in his paper arguing about it.

  5. #5 |  Marty | 

    ‘Hey, I’m a freedom-of-the-press type…’

    this is like Larry Craig saying, “I am not gay, I don’t do these kinds of things.”

    or any claim that, ‘Republicans are fiscally conservative.’

  6. #6 |  Carl Drega | 

    It goes back further than that. Have they ever released the name of the thug who murdered Sal Culosi?

  7. #7 |  awp | 

    ” ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah. Nobody cares….’ ”

    “local police department won an award for ticketing people who don’t wear their seatbelts.”

    I don’t understand why anyone cares if cops are killing citizens as long as they make it up by making sure they are wearing their seatbelts when they are shot.

  8. #8 |  David | 

    “I’m a freedom-of-the-press type…”

    Freedom-of-the-press type? No, I’m pretty sure what we’ve got here is your garden-variety asshole.

  9. #9 |  Kristen | 

    I thought the whole folderol started with the murder of Sal Culosi.

  10. #10 |  Kristen | 

    Oops! Carl D beat me to it! Soon as I read the thing I immeditaley though of Culosi.

  11. #11 |  JS | 

    The press are a disgrace in this country. They’ve gone from just being lazy to actively opposing anyone who would act as watchdog for the public. Much of the mainstream press condemn wikileaks too. Fuck them, all they are is the old dead outward form of journalism, the real substance is guys like you Radley.

  12. #12 |  Reggie Hubbard | 

    Well, if the cops don’t have to release information then they will only give information to the newspeople who tow the line.

    I look forward to a future of police-sanctioned news outlets who spend night and day tracking down the cowardly small news organizations and bloggers who dare criticize the law-enforcing police. Only once all bloggers andlocal newspapers have been shut down the police will be able to do their jobs honestly.

  13. #13 |  JS | 

    Reggie Hubbard “Well, if the cops don’t have to release information then they will only give information to the newspeople who tow the line.”

    Good post Reggie1 They’re just like the military now. The mainstream press has rolled over like the coward desk jockeys they are.

  14. #14 |  Marshall | 

    “Blah, blah, blah, blah. Nobody cares except some freedom-of-the-press types. Hey, I’m a freedom-of-the-press type, and even I don’t care all that much.”

    It’s sad that a journalist would want that in print under their name and not be embarrassed by it.

  15. #15 |  tb | 

    The same editorial page put out an opinion that the secrecy of the Fairfax County Public Schools is just unacceptable.

    Schools not releasing the names of retirees = bad.
    Police not releasing the name of a cop who murdered a citizen = meh.

  16. #16 |  goober1223 | 

    @ #13, JS

    The correct phrase is “tow the lion”, and you’re welcome.

  17. #17 |  Dante | 

    Hey Goober1223:

    “The correct phrase is “tow the lion”, and you’re welcome.”

    Get outta town! Is that correct? I’ve been saying it wrong for 49 years.


  18. #18 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    It’s really “toe the line,” but any version works these days.

  19. #19 |  JS | 

    I never heard that either but thanks Goober! I’ll try and work in next time!

  20. #20 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    Incidentally, The Connection newspapers should immediately reprint this whole editorial under the heading “Here’s Why You Read The Connection,” and copyright be damned.

  21. #21 |  KristenS | 

    Jeeze….it’s “toe the line”, as in the start of a race.

  22. #22 |  nospam | 

    “Incidentally, The Connection newspapers should immediately reprint this whole editorial under the heading “Here’s Why You Read The Connection,” and copyright be damned.”

    Along with a disclaimer like “Our use of the Sun Gazette’s copyrighted material is the least of their problems.”

  23. #23 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Damn, Radley, I heard that bitch-slap all the way out here on the Left Coast!

  24. #24 |  hattio | 

    Actually Kristen S,
    I believe it is “toe the line” as in be ready to box the next round. The explanation I heard is that back in the olden days boxing matches went until someone was knocked out, or one party couldn’t come to the center (and toe the line) for the start of the next round.

  25. #25 |  hattio | 

    Kristen S,

    Here’s what Wikipedia says;

    The most likely origins of the term go back to the usage of the wooden ships in the Royal Navy. Barefooted seamen had to stand at attention for inspection and had to line up on deck along the seams of the wooden planks, hence to “toe the line” [2] Over the years the term has been attributed to sports, including toeing the starting line in track events and toeing a center line in boxing which boxers were instructed to line up on either side of to start a match.

    Of course, that’s Wikipedia.

  26. #26 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Shorter Editor “Scott” (I believe that’s his signature at the end of the editorial):

    1. The police (or some powerful people) are paying me to try to cover their asses.

    2. The police (or some powerful people) have threatened me if I don’t cover their asses.

    Well, I mean, in defense of Editor “Scott,” Goebbels would have said pretty much the same thing. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

  27. #27 |  Kevin Carson | 

    Hey, I’m glad he’s a freedom-of-the-press type. I’d hate to imagine what the opinion of a tight-assed-insecure-authoritarian-who-brings-himself-to-ejaculation-by-secretly-marching-around-in-Nazi-regalia-with-his-wife’s-panties-on-underneath-and-singing-songs-from-Cabaret type would be.

  28. #28 |  JS | 

    Judas Peckerwood “Damn, Radley, I heard that bitch-slap all the way out here on the Left Coast!”

    I haven’t bitch slapped anyone since Tucson. Prepare for pride obliterating bitch slap!

  29. #29 |  Blakenator | 

    This editor is an authoritarian who, thinks “it could never happen to me” and/or thinks he has the “connection” to the police that shields him from the possibility of “problems.” I guarantee if this clown ever runs afoul of the authorities he doesn’t care all that much about and the fix don’t take, he will be crying long and loudly. In a perfect world, the Connection papers would then be able to publicly print his problems were not worth a “care.”

  30. #30 |  Mrs. C | 

    Thank you…to those who have not forgotten…my son Sal… and the terrible wrong…that was done to him…and our family. I am grateful…that he is remembered.

    It was also “thanks” to a reporter…and not the FCPD…that we learned the name of the officer…who unjustly shot and killed…my unarmed son. It is Deval Bullock.

    We have recently been assigned…a court date…for our civil action against him. January 18, 2011…in a trial that may take 6 to 10 days…which if it goes to day 7…will have us in court…on the 5th Year Remembrance Day…January 24th…the date in 2006…on which…Sal’s life was stolen…from him…and our family.

    I miss my son each and every day…and soon the promise I made to him…that we would do all that we could…for as long as it would take…to hold them accountable…and seek the justice he is owed…is finally getting closer.

    Please keep my son…and our family…in your thoughts…as we continue forward.

    God bless each of you.

  31. #31 |  RogerX | 

    Radley –

    I peruse your RSS feed via Google Reader. The google ad associated with this post was for “get training for a job with Homeland Security” at some institution called ICDC.

    Obviously you have no control over this, I just thought it was interesting.

  32. #32 |  DCSwede | 

    The added insult in the Culosi case is that Officer Bullock was never charged, and is still on the streets. The FCPD said he was one of their best weapons officers (despite the fact that he “accidentally” shot Dr. Culosi center-mass while climbing out of a SUV), and Commonwealth’s Attorney Horan did as he did in 100% of cases and chose not to try the case.

    If you are involved in a confrontation with the Fairfax police, film EVERYTHING and then refuse to give the film to them. It is apparently the ONLY way to be sure your case will be heard.

    This editor has clearly forgotten what the First Amendment is supposed to protect, and why.