By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
No Country for Old Newspapermen
I’m one of countless others who consumes those interesting true crime docuseries on Netflix. They’re all mostly cut from the same template: interviews with investigators, prosecutors, victims, the suspects, their cohorts, and, yes, the journalists who broke the story and continued coverage until the case was put to bed (and sometimes beyond).
I was fortunate enough to be included as a source for an Oxygen Channel episode delving into a Clark County murder case some years ago (you can find a link to that episode if you really want to know more about me). Our sheriff, the lead investigator on the case, was another source, telling the cameras all about the adjudicated case. Before the story became public interest, the sheriff had asked for the media’s help to spread word about a missing person — as it turned out the missing person had been murdered and dumped in a roadside ditch — and days later the missing person report became a murder case. That was more than a decade ago, and now I get the feeling that any trust law enforcement once had in the media has vanished.
When I started compiling police reports for Dispatch Desk, I immediately noticed something had changed since my newspaper days: while misdemeanor reports are available for public inspection, felony incident reports are now kept under wraps, filed away somewhere behind the secure doors of the police department. In recent weeks our readers have picked up on this and have asked why we don’t give more information about felony reports. Simple answer: We can’t. We wish we could, but not just because we’re nosy.
If someone reports a rape or other heinous act, all we know is the crime committed/investigated, the date it was reported, and sometimes the name of the officer who wrote the report that we can’t see. I get it: police don’t want some nosy reporter to leak details and spoil their investigation, and prosecutors don’t want media coverage to ruin their chances of seating an unbiased jury. Perhaps in the past too much information has been included in news articles or too much coverage has tainted jury pools. The Arkadelphian’s editorial policy is to exclude any information that could further distress victims and to include information our readers need and want to know.
Let’s say there are five rapes reported over the course of a month. Is it a serial rapist? Are they occurring at the same place? Should women be concerned for their safety? And what about nonviolent crimes like property theft or residential burglary? There may be a certain neighborhood where cars or homes are frequently burglarized, but we won’t know where unless we hear it through the grapevine. If the media can’t have access to this information, we can’t inform our audience. The community deserves to know some basic facts about what goes on in their neighborhood.
Point in case: since Friday, Jan. 27, the Arkadelphia Police Department has filed three separate reports of arson (here’s the third we know of). Thankfully I’ve got an additional tool under my belt, so I at least was able to determine when and where two of the incidents occurred, but I will not know a single other detail unless an officer sees fit to inform me (and you). In this case, the chief did kindly explain that the two arsons were related and said there should be no threat to the public. Still, we’re trained to, at the very least, report who what when where how and why. We’re still missing the who, how and why of these arsons.
If you leave the media out of the loop, those true crime stories are gonna feel awfully empty without our reporting and B-roll footage.
Editor’s note: The police chief has scheduled a meeting with us in the coming days to hear us out.
Blue Hog, where’s my shoutout?
It’s a good feeling to know that we’re not alone in this strange occupation of carving our work into the infinite space that is The Internet. It’s an even better feeling knowing there are others out there who are more bold or who can commit more resources to investigating wrongdoings by public officials.
Matt Campbell recently posted in the Blue Hog Report the first installment of Pike County Prosecutor Jana Bradford’s connections to and favors for her uncle, Barry Alan Walker, the infamous child rapist you likely first read about on this website. Excellent work, Mr. Campbell, but I’m disappointed that my reporting on Bradford or Walker wasn’t enough to merit a single reference or link. Next time you’re writing about our part of the state, do local reporters a favor and throw this dog a bone — I put in some work on this, too! And I suggest you let that one marinate!
As part of our weekly routine, each Sunday The Arkadelphian asks our Facebook audience a question, and the rest of Sunday is spent hearing phone notifications as replies come in. This week’s question: What’s your pet peeve(s)?
The answer that made me guffaw was from Elizabeth Kelly, who has real beef with mapmakers who put Alaska and Hawaii south of California. But the answer I most agreed with (failing to use a turn signal aside) came from Cory Stiles, whose pet peeve happens to be loud, public swearing.
I hear it all too often while traversing the supermarket aisles, swearing beneath my own breath at the price of those &0##@^^ eggs and everything else. Then I’ll hear two fellow shoppers discussing the Super Bowl or some other nonsense. Eavesdropping on these potentially deaf people isn’t an option as they shout in colorful language, not damn or hell but those words better left in the locker room.
During one recent Walmart excursion Deaf Bob didn’t catch what Deaf Sam had yelled, so Deaf Bob asked for a replay. Deaf Sam repeated himself, using every colorful adjective he had used the first time, and did so without qualm or regard to anyone within earshot (which possibly included the parking lot as well as the dairy aisle).
I’m no saint when it comes to foul language. In fact, I’m a professional whose Curse-iculum Vitae dates to my playground days in the early ‘90s. My rump was the target of two paddlings over the course of one week. I remember vividly stepping off that swinging horse to tie my shoelace when the still-swinging horse bumped my head and sent me tumbling. “#%$@ you!” I said back to that dumb plastic playground equipment. A fellow horse swinger heard my language and snitched on me. Pow!
Days later my third-grade brain found hilarity in etching the same words into the dust accumulated on the school bus, to read “#%$@ SPARKMAN SCHOOL DISTRICT” (Hey, I deserve credit for creativity). A fellow bus rider saw my action and snitched on me. Pow!
It’s worth noting here that neither snitch received stitches, but neither of them grew up to amount to much. Pow!
I, on the other hand, learned a valuable life lesson: that swearing is best kept to yourself and between friends. I also learned that corporal punishment works. To those of you with loud mouths and limited lexicon: you sound like a buffoon. Show some respect.
Joel Phelps is editor and publisher of The Arkadelphian. He can be reached by phone at 501-304-2134 or by email at email@example.com. If there’s a felony happening out there, try the bat signal.
Interesting read about the felony cases. I get multiple updates from the DemGaz throughtout the day and they seem to be able to report a lot more detail that the APD is releasing. Like incident type, time, date, location, and very shortly thereafter, victim names, suspect names, etc., etc. Wonder why Shorty’s keeping things so hush hush?
Here’s an example of a report by the DemGaz in the 4:20pm Jan 31 update::
A woman was found dead following a Monday evening standoff between law enforcement and a Mountain View man in rural Stone County, according to a Facebook post from the Stone County sheriff’s office.
Deputies, Arkansas State Police troopers and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officers responded to a report of a shooting in the 900 block of Jensen Road around 5 p.m. Monday. The address is about 11 miles east of Mountain View.
A man, later identified as Fred Mixon, 50, was barricaded inside and making threats against police, according to the post. Police negotiated with him for some time and eventually arrested him without incident, the post states. The post didn’t say what charges Mixon was facing.
Inside the residence, police found a woman’s body. She was not identified in the post, and no cause of death was given.
An investigation into the killing was ongoing, the post states.
Lacking education or knowledge.Showing or arising from a lack of education or knowledge.Unaware or uninformed.
My daddy always told me that people swear because they don’t possess the vocabulary to express themselves otherwise. In other words, they are ignorant.
I’d like to be a fly on the wall during that meeting. I fully understand the need to keep some details private because of ongoing cases, but it sounds dangerously close to a FOIA violation in action. Following.
Let us know about your meeting!