• Last modified 461 days ago (Dec. 13, 2017)


Copping out

In this week’s Hillsboro police incident report that we received by fax, there was one particularly interesting item, that of a car theft from a church parking lot.

We picked up the phone and placed a call to chief Dan Kinning, but the woman who answered said he wasn’t available. She offered to contact assistant chief Jessey Hiebert to have him call us back, which he did minutes later. He was out on patrol, but offered to drive back to the station to review the offense report, the front page of which is an open public record.

Hiebert called back and provided what information he could, talked about its relevance for local drivers, and gave us the owner’s phone number from the open public record page to follow up.

The resulting story, found elsewhere in this newspaper, represents what can flow from a simple weekly police report and open communication.

The public has been made aware of an incident of the kind they should guard against, no matter where they live. Some eagle-eyed citizen may spot the missing vehicle, or see someone or something else suspicious that should be checked out by police. Those who take heed and start locking their cars, as Hiebert recommended, may keep their families from being disappointed on Christmas by keeping their purchased presents safe until they’re home, wrapped, and under the tree.

Hillsboro police, and also chief Bruce Burke in Peabody, see the value of making the public aware of what’s going on through their weekly incident reports. An informed public is a great asset in crime prevention and fighting, a lesson we’ve long known from neighborhood watch programs.

We used to have the same sort of communication with Marion police. They faithfully sent weekly incident reports, and chief Tyler Mermis and assistant chief Clinton Jeffrey both would field our inquiries. Open record offense reports always were waiting for us in a basket to be picked up.

That changed in August. This marks the 19th consecutive week we haven’t had a Marion police incident report to include on our docket page. The last one appeared Aug. 2.

You likely won’t recall, but Aug. 2 was the week we reported officer Mike Stone’s resignation from the department. We wouldn’t have gotten Stone’s side of the story without Mermis encouraging him to talk with us. That resignation came on the heels of officer Lee Vogel leaving for a similar position in Plainville.

Suddenly down two full-time officers, Mermis was up-front with us that weekly reports would be difficult with officers, including himself, pulling extra duty, and we understood.

Having since filled one of those full-time positions and covered the other with part-timers with the blessing of city council, we no longer understand.

We’ve been remiss in checking a few weeks since then, but incident reports we received weekly from Marion police for at least a couple of decades haven’t been there when we have, either past or current. We’ve been given no explanation when we’ve asked. They simply haven’t had them. The same goes for open record offense report pages.

We managed to get onto a story about theft a few weeks ago through tips from people who knew the victims. That would’ve shown up in a weekly incident report and an offense report, but we had neither.

While we could speculate on the whys for this prolonged drought, and suspect we’d be right, we’ll reserve that for a private discussion with Mermis that we should have aggressively pursued weeks ago.

We should have done so on behalf of you, the public. Readers have noticed and have been asking what’s happened to those incident reports, and it’s well past time that we started pushing to get them back.

Our first obligation is to you, to provide you with information you’re legally entitled to so you can decide if you should take steps to remain safe and vigilant. It’s not fair for some who happen to have the “right” connections to know what’s going on while others are kept in the dark.

We hope we’ll find mutual agreement in getting back on track, recognizing the longstanding practice and value of keeping you informed. We’ll do our part to make it happen.

And if Marion, unlike Hillsboro or Peabody, really hasn’t had any activity to report in four months, well, we’re even better than the “best place I’ve seen” motto I grew up with.

— david colburn

Last modified Dec. 13, 2017