Today’s Opinion: Police reports

POSTED: 04/7/11 11:47 AM

Research in the Netherlands shows that less than one third of crime victims files a report with the police. More than half of the plaintiffs go to the police because they need a report for their insurance. Among victims of violent crimes the preparedness to file a complaint is astonishingly low – around 15 percent. It is safe to assume that the Dutch situation reflects a general and very human attitude towards crime.

These data suggest that the crime situation in any country is much worse than official statistics portray.

Filing complaints and reporting crime is a two-way street. The local police sends press releases to the media with information about crimes, but the impression that these press releases are far from complete got a boost yesterday when two suspects appeared in the Court in First Instance.

The men stand accused of kidnapping an Israeli drug dealer – at least, the victim was sentenced for smuggling marijuana and cocaine via the cruise liner Mariner of the Seas in 2007 – in December of last year.

And guess what.

The police never sent information about this rather unique crime to the media.

This makes us think that the police is extremely selective in the way it communicates with the outside world. That is a pity because we otherwise have the impression that under the leadership of Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte, the force has entered a new era wherein openness is a key principle.

We have long suspected that, for instance, rape cases are under reported by the police, if they are reported at all. Up to a point, we understand why this is so – even though we wholeheartedly disagree.

St. Maarten is a small community, and not all media are equally responsible when it comes to protecting the identity of crime victims. Especially when sensitive issues like rape are the subject matter, it becomes the media to show some restraint. When this does not happen, the consequences of media attention are potentially devastating for the victims.

But it is not up to the police to take these decisions for the media. We just have a recent example in the Netherlands, where a 12-year-old girl from St. Maarten gave birth to a daughter sired by her own father. The Telegraaf opted to publish the girl’s name – a rare display of a lack of consideration, because the girl is an incest-victim.

Still, the president of the association of Editors in Chief in the Netherlands rejected the idea of muzzling the press by for instance banning the publication of names in such cases.

And no matter how tormenting such a decision is, we have to agree. A free press and patronizing authorities do not go well together – no, they do not go together at all.

That the police in St. Maarten has withheld a report about the kidnapping in December is therefore not acceptable. It defies logic, especially since it involves people who move in the same (criminal) circuit.

If there are good reasons to withhold information, law enforcement authorities ought to be open about it.

The decision about publishing or not publishing information is the prerogative of the media, not of the authorities.

Of course, the police and the prosecutor’s office are not expected to ;provide what they call “perpetrator-information” to the media. That is the kind of information only the criminal who committed a robbery, a murder, or any other crime, knows. Revealing such details would obviously frustrate investigations and give criminals the opportunity to escape justice.

But it is ridiculous to hide complete crimes from the public eye. The details about the December kidnapping start to emerge now in court, and this seems to be a good moment to reconsider the way the police releases information to the media.

Another detail of interest in this regard is that the police in St. Maarten has not released official crime figures since 2009, when the stats over 2008 were made available. In early 2010, this newspaper received preliminary figures over 2009 that showed a decline in criminal activity across the board by almost 20 percent. The official report was never released and while we enter the fourth month of 2010, the crime figures over 2009 are still missing in action as well.

 

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