Police, press need better cooperation

With only a handful of notable exceptions, Upper Peninsula media have historically been a docile lot when covering law enforcement.

When hard questions and dogged pursuit were in order, we most often timidly took the press release and told ourselves it was what we had to do to get along.

The result of this endemic passivity has been lopsided relationships between First Amendment speakers and many police agencies, with cops calling the shots.

So it came as no particular surprise last week when The Mining Journal rang up the Negaunee Police Department, the day after a standoff had been resolved peacefully in that community, only to be told the agency had nothing to say about it.

Multiple police agencies responded, guns were drawn, private residences placed under scrutiny, roads barricaded and a neighborhood stood on its head – and they have nothing to say about it?

The easy play here, from the media’s perspective, would be to point the finger of blame at the Negaunee police and call it a day. After all, they have a duty to help keep their community informed about what they’re up to, don’t they? It’s their responsibility to make available, in a reasonable amount of time, information that can be passed along to the taxpaying public, isn’t it?

And while the answer to both questions is most definitely yes, this kettle of fish is much more complicated than simply one police agency being uncooperative on one occasion.

In some cases – certainly not all – law enforcement has become borderline contemptuous of the press and the role it plays in a free and well-informed society.

Some police officers – certainly not all – appear to prefer operating behind a veil of secrecy. Working journalists are viewed as bothersome.

We fully realize there are limits on what police can say about an investigation or suspects who are connected to it. The law is very clear on what police can and cannot disclose. Circumstances often dictate when data can and should be released.

All of that said, however, too often many police agencies refuse to provide information in a timely manner, secure in the knowledge that little or nothing will be said or done about it. And given history, it’s not an unexpected attitude to take.

It’s our sincere view that the press and police must work hand-in-hand to keep citizens well protected and informed. It’s a workable system, providing both parties respect and cooperate with the other.

– Marquette Mining Journal