It appears that many of our readers would like to see the Chronicle continue to publish weekly police reports. These readers believe that police reports provide a service to the community.
There are others, however, who think quite differently. They see police reports as an invasion of privacy.
Since the day I arrived in Cheraw, I have not been sure what to think or where I stand on the issue of police reports. I have weighed the decision as to whether or not the paper should publish the reports. I see both sides and understand both arguments. Does publishing a list of mostly minor infractions provide the community with necessary information or does it serve no purpose other than to embarrass those who are listed?
Does the community really need to know if "Joe Down the Road" was stopped for driving without a license or if the daughter of "Mary Up the Street" was picked up for allegedly shoplifting?
If someone is charged with selling drugs, folks who live in that person's community certainly deserve to know. The same could be said of a person charged with driving under the influence. Those are offenses that directly affect the lives of many other people.
As the editor of the paper, I have fielded more phone calls from folks wanting to keep their names out of the police reports than for most any other reason. "It will embarrass me at church," "I will lose my job" or "I am a teacher and I don't want folks to know that my child has caused trouble" are three of the reasons I have heard that quickly come to mind. I have also had persons of some local authority call and try to "pull some strings" to get a name left off the police report.
Not matter the reason, my response has always been that the paper can make no exceptions - either we run the police reports in their entirety or not at all. It's that simple.
What is not so simple is whether the Chronicle should run them or not. Do the police reports do more good than harm, or is it the other way around?
Remember, we live in a country where a person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. By publishing a list of people who have been pulled over in the vehicles or have been charged with breaking a law or laws, is the paper brandishing them with a scarlet letter before they have even been tried in a court of law? Tell me that you don't automatically assume a person is guilty when you see his or her name in the police blotter and I will suggest that you be more honest with yourself.
Since it is our belief that the Chronicle is the community's newspaper, we decided to let the community voice its opinion in our weekly poll. You will see four random responses below this column in our Your Voice feature. The Chronicle's online poll, found at www.thecherawchronicle.com allowed readers to cast their vote on whether or not the paper should run police reports.
To be quite honest, I was surprised at the results. From the all the phone calls I have taken, I assumed the majority of responses was be in favor of no longer publishing the police reports.
Well, you know what they say about assuming.
I was completely wrong. Most of those who responded see a good purpose in the police reports. Just two readers felt that the reports were unnecessary. Granted the number of responses is a small fraction of our readership, it was nevertheless still very surprising.
By publishing a person's name and address in the paper over a minor offense and that person is found not guilty or the charges are dropped, have we done harm to that person?
If we do not publish their name, the legal system will continue to work as it was intended, be they guilty or not guilty. No harm, no foul.
Ultimately, it comes down to a person's right to privacy versus the community's right to know. We at the Chronicle have to make that decision.
The police reports are a list of names, ages and addresses of people who have been cited for breaking the law. The charges are sometimes very general in nature. It is basic information without the benefit of explanation.
By publishing the police reports, is the Chronicle interfering with a person's individual rights to privacy and to defend his/her self against the charges in a court of law?
To those who voted in our poll, we appreciate you opinion and your support of the Chronicle. However, we believe it is in the best interest of the community that the Chronicle no longer publish weekly police reports. We understand that there will be many who are unhappy. We also know that there will be many who are relieved.
To be honest, we think that in a few weeks they will not even be missed. In fact, for the first 114 years of its existence, the Chronicle did not print police reports. The first police report appeared on chronicle pages in 2001.
We will continue to report events that are newsworthy, including major crimes and those that are deemed unique or of special interest to the community.
We simply do not believe that reporting alleged minor offenses are newsworthy.