To the editor:
First off I want to express my appreciation of the Sandy Springs Reporter as a quality publication that I read regularly to keep abreast of news and events in the area. As someone who has always maintained an interest in criminal justice, I especially enjoy perusing the “blotter” section to read about various police reports submitted that are relevant to the Sandy Springs area (unfortunately, my apartment complex is mentioned in this section much too often!)
In addition to the “Police Blotter” in the Reporter, I also read “The Blotter” in Creative Loafing, and generally keep an eye on the crime reporting in the media in general.
Crime reporting generally seems to have two trains of thought behind it. Either it’s aimed at informing citizens, or it’s aimed at entertaining them. The blotter in Creative Loafing, for example, is written in a light-hearted way that is obviously meant to entertain us with the dunder-headed antics of the local villains, whereas the more serious crime reporting of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, will often give some basic details of crimes committed from around the city that seem noteworthy.
In both of the above examples, the details about the suspects are generally sparse if even offered at all, and I don’t feel that they are generally necessary since the area of the state/city covered is much more extensive, particularly if the article is meant to entertain more than inform.
However, the blotter of the Sandy Springs Reporter is about crimes committed within just a few square miles, places the citizens of Sandy Springs see nearly daily. You will often go into decent detail of a suspect’s appearance such as estimated age, height, weight, clothing, and in the most recent Reporter, even a suspect’s golden teeth are mentioned.
To me, this implies that the purpose of the blotter in the Sandy Springs Reporter is to inform the citizens of Sandy Springs about what’s going on in their area so that if, for example, someone with the same physical features tries the same scam M.O. on us, we can be appropriately suspicious or be reminded to take basic precautions against theft and the like.
It strikes me as a useful journalistic tool for crime information, prevention, and maybe even helping to get suspects off the streets.
That being said my issue is this: Despite the often relatively detailed descriptions of suspects, there seems to be a stigma against mentioning a suspect’s race, even when it’s known. It seems to me that if one is going to bother to print the height, weight and fashion choices of a suspect, that there is no reason not to print the suspect’s race.
In the edition of the blotter sitting in front of me, there are five solidly detailed descriptions of suspects, not one of them mentions the race of the suspect.
If the purpose of printing police reports is just to distract or entertain us such as with “The Blotter” in Creative Loafing, then suspect description is a non-issue. If the purpose is to actually inform the citizens of Sandy Springs about crime in our area so we can be more effectively aware of those with criminal intent, then failing to print a very obvious and basic identifying feature such as race (even while printing minor identifiers such as gold teeth) is a lapse in journalistic detail that can only hurt the usefulness of printing overviews of police reports in the first place.