Who polices the police?
Accentuating the positive, we’re pleased to report that Hillsboro police chief Dan Kinning is a dream to work with when we do our shared job of informing the public about cases his officers work on.
So, too, is his assistant, Jessey Hiebert, who seamlessly steps in whenever his boss is away.
From Hillsboro police, we receive timely summaries of the many things they investigate, along with copies of all the official offense and accident reports they are required by the state to complete — reports clearly emblazoned with words to the effect that they are public records that must be disclosed.
Opinions by the state attorney general back up the notion that not only are these public records; they also must be disclosed in a timely manner.
Hillsboro police routinely go beyond what’s minimally required by law, often providing notes to explain things that might be hard to understand from the public portion of a report. And they always seem willing — even when off-duty — to talk to reporters, promptly returning every phone call.
Hillsboro’s cooperation stands in stark contrast to what other law enforcement agencies in Marion County do.
Despite often being the only full-time officer in town, Peabody chief Bruce Burke always seems to make time to talk to us, which we appreciate. But he has never once let us see a copy of the public portion of any of his official reports.
Marion chief Tyler Mermis — usually, his assistant, Clinton Jeffrey — used to give us a weekly report like Kinning’s and Hiebert’s. At one time, Marion police also routinely made copies of the public portion of all written reports available so we could pick them up without having to ask.
That ended last year, however, around the time when several Marion officers were in the news unfavorably. Now we can request a report — if we know about it — but otherwise get only a copy of an every-other-week narrative sent to city council members.
Sheriff Rob Craft also allows no one other than him to talk to us — not even his undersheriff or watch commanders, and certainly not his dispatchers, who used to provide information and probably still do to TV stations and newspapers from out of town.
His office does send us reports every Friday, but many are from weeks earlier, and quite a few of the serially numbered document never seem to show up.
Kansas Highway Patrol, in contrast, almost immediately posts information about nearly every accident it investigates. Troopers rarely are available to answer questions, but basic facts are almost there by day’s end.
We urge all ranking law enforcement officers in Marion County to follow Kinning’s lead in helping us perform our shared duty of letting the public that pays and supports them know what is going on as soon as basic information is available.
It would make our job easier. More important, citizens have a right to know the news while it’s still new, not days and weeks later after it has been sanitized or only if someone in power deems to release it. That’s what the flag on so many officers’ uniforms stands for.
— Eric Meyer