Crime news important to open, healthy society
Circuit Judge Scott Donaldson had a chance last week to push the state back toward more openness in government. Instead, he caved to a sheriff who sometimes thinks he's bigger than life.
Sheriff Ted Sexton is a charismatic personality who likes things to go his way. He disagreed with long-standing interpretations of police incident reports and basically closed the front page of these reports to the local newspaper. The back page of this two-page report is already closed.
The Tuscaloosa News sued, which resulted in a wimpy decision that says the front page should be open to the press and public unless that information might harm an investigation.
The sheriff had said that the news media could not see reports on any investigation that's still open. The ruling allows him to argue that reporting on these crimes may hamper investigations.
Thus, the ruling has the potential of confirming his arbitrary decision to withhold this information from the public.
Actually, every news organization works closely with local law enforcement agencies and withholds certain information from time to time when disclosing it might harm a case.
In television, the saying is that "If it bleeds, it leads," meaning that crime news get prominence. THE DAILY also finds that readers want crime news. Some are simply interested in police activities, but many use this information to grade local law enforcement.
If the Tuscaloosa sheriff only acknowledges a crime after he's solved the case, that might leave a lot of unsolved cases not reported.
It's not good government when a person in authority has the legal power to cover up the ineffectiveness of his own office.