Report to Readers: New year, new information from the police
The other day, Monitor police reporter Tricia L. Nadolny started her morning at the Concord Police Department, where she planned to check the arrest logs before driving to the office.
It took her a loooooooong time – and that’s good news.
It’s not that the police had arrested more people than normal but rather that they had written more complete reports for us to examine. That’s the result of an important state law that took effect Jan. 1 and has already improved the public’s ability to see what law enforcement officials are up to.
The law now requires the police to tell the public not only that they have arrested someone but also why and how.
In other words, they need to give some level of detail about the incident that led to the arrest.
For reporters and editors, that extra information helps determine how big a story actually is: Does it belong on the front page? On the Local & State page? In the more modest police log? Does it warrant further reporting?
For the public, that extra information should provide a clearer picture of what the police are dealing with day to day – and whether they’re responding appropriately.
Here is one quick example of what Nadolny found on her most recent stop at the police department:
Michael Krakofsky, 24, of Wilmington, Mass., was arrested Dec. 8 and charged with vandalism. The police said the incident took place at a Fisherville Road apartment where a female reported that her ex-boyfriend, identified as Krakofsky, had broken her necklace and was refusing to leave. Krakofsky told the police that the necklace he was accused of breaking had already been broken. Krakofsky was released on a $2,000 personal recognizance bail and is due in court Jan. 14.
In the past, the police likely would have told us about the vandalism charge – but not about the broken necklace, the ex-girlfriend or the man’s explanation.
The new law was actually inspired by a dispute between the Monitor and the city. A few years back, readers may remember, the Concord police arrested City Councilor Fred Keach for DWI. Keach’s lawyer was displeased with the amount of detail about the case that appeared in the Monitor and encouraged the city to dramatically scale back the information made public about local arrests, arguing that defendants would be hard-pressed to get a fair trial if so much damning detail was made public.
But the new policy left us with not nearly enough information to do our job well. That’s when the Legislature – led by Rep. Brandon Giuda of Chichester – got involved. The result was this new law, requiring basic information be made public and making the rules consistent across the state.
After the law passed, Monitor reporters and editors met with city representatives about the new world order. As you can see, so far so good. In some cases, we’re simply getting a better picture of alleged crimes. In others, as Nadolny notes, the police are also giving us a hint of the defense by the person who has been charged, creating a fuller picture of what might have happened.
The law, of course, applies not only to Concord but to all law-enforcement agencies in New Hampshire. Police agencies across the state should take note of the change.
(Felice Belman can be reaced at email@example.com or 369-3370. An early version of this column appeared at concordmonitor.com/opinion/reporttoreaders.)