Police departments lacking transparency
It's a difficult time to be a cop – recruitment for all police departments is tougher, including at our highly-rated local departments, in the wake of racial tensions, sky-high drug usage and abuse, pervasive mental health crises, overwhelming legal and illegal gun ownership – they rightly feel under attack. And yet, when we are concerned or feel unsafe, we want to know that our police are available to us, where we need them.
Which is why we, as a press organization which works as representatives of the public, are so concerned about the lack of communication and transparency from the Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills, and at times Birmingham police departments. We depend on their open sharing of police reports to let readers know what is happening in their communities, whether a major issue, or minor inconvenience. We call it public safety reporting. It's an age-old part of the journalism product. Problem is, lately, we're not receiving the product.
Some cases in point.
The incident in early December when a Dearborn man verbally accosted parents and their toddler children, spewing antisemitic and racist slurs as they entered the preschool at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township, dominated press headlines for days. However, first, the situation ruled social media, and it took calls, emails and texts to the police chief and communications manager before there were finally adequate responses which could be properly conveyed to the reading public.
There are several reasons why this is critical. One, it is important for law enforcement to be open and straightforward with the public. That does not mean they have to jeopardize an investigation – we absolutely recognize and respect the job they do, and the steps that are necessary to explore, scrutinize, analyze and complete an investigation. But a lack of information leads to conjecture and often the belief that the police are doing nothing – which we understand is not true. It also puts to rest the speculation that local municipalities are more concerned with sanitizing the public image of the community.
But there is a larger problem with our local police departments – and that is a lack of furnishing any information on crimes, big or small, in a timely fashion. For years, there has been nothing – nada, zilch, bupkes – coming from Bloomfield Hills, save an occasional drunk driving incident. Let's remember Woodward Avenue traverses the city, and there are other main roads. There may not be a lot of major crime in the city, thankfully, but when we hear, off the record, of drug stops or incidents on the Cranbrook Schools campus, and contact the department and they tell us they've been told they can't speak about them, there is something wrong.
In the last year or so, other than the antisemitic incident and a few traffic fatalities, Bloomfield Township police have gone silent, as well. Where once we were able to communicate to readers about various larcenies at Costco, Target and other stores, larcenies from vehicles, as well as frauds and identity thefts, among other minor crimes, they remain mum, week after week. It's impossible to believe that a township with about 45,000 residents has nothing happening.
While we do receive some crime reports from the city of Birmingham, they are minimal – and often well after the fact. The January 4 downtown heinous and scary mugging and purse snatching involving a business owner was reported over a week after it happened – not because they had to keep it secret due to an investigation, either. For both other business owners and shoppers, that was news that should have been shared, pronto.
While there may be a fine balance in managing the art of enforcement, it is imperative to include transparency as part of the recipe.