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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

February 19, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

The Jonesboro Sun. Feb. 17, 2019.

For months, the Jonesboro Police Department had been sitting on six police reports about shootings that occurred in our city in 2018, one going as far back as last February.

The Sun has repeatedly asked for those reports so we could inform our community about the details of violent crimes happening here.

We’ve repeatedly been turned down, each time the police citing that the shootings were still “active and under investigation” so the reports couldn’t be released.

On Thursday, five of those reports were finally released, basically showing that the shooting investigations had been ignored.

The shooting last February that had been listed as “active and under investigation” for nearly a year hadn’t even been looked at by police in months until our reporter’s constant filing of Freedom of Information Act requests finally caused someone at JPD to look into it.

That’s troubling.

In several of the shooting cases that police said were “active and under investigation” and reports couldn’t be released, JPD had simply shelved them, apparently hoping someone would come forward with information because JPD certainly wasn’t doing any investigation into the cases.

That’s disturbing.

The best example is the February shooting last year. No activity was referenced on the report from Feb. 24, 2018, until Wednesday, the date The Sun made its most recent request.

On that date, an investigator with the department finally reviewed the file and spoke with the victim, who told the officer she had no further information on the case. After nearly a year of no contact, that’s hardly a surprise.

The victim had been shot after a party she was hosting moved into the street in the 1800 block of Cedar Heights Drive. She said she heard fighting outside and went to see what was going on. As she crossed the street, she heard gunfire and then felt pain in her leg. She said she did not see who shot her and did not remember anything else due to blacking out.

On Wednesday, the victim told the officer, “You can go ahead and just close it out.”

So, after nearly a year of inactivity, the so-called “active investigation” was closed and the report released to The Sun.

This case is but one example of how the Jonesboro Police Department is violating the state’s Freedom of Information Act by holding reports from the public it says are active and under investigation when they simply are being ignored.

The report shows JPD did no investigation of the case from Feb. 24, 2018, until last Wednesday, but the report was kept from the public.

Why? We can only surmise that the police aren’t doing much — if any — investigation of these shooting cases and aren’t routinely evaluating their status. None of the victims in these cases either can or are willing to identify their assailants.

Maybe if the police would release reports detailing what they’ve discovered early on in their investigations, the public could help them solve these violent crimes. The alternative doesn’t seem to be working and leaves the public in the dark about violent crimes occurring in our community.

It seems obvious from this shooting case that the Jonesboro Police Department is classifying shootings in our community as “active and under investigation” when they simply are inactive and no further effort is being made to investigate what happened.

It makes no sense why the police department isn’t releasing these reports, and it’s doing the public a disservice by keeping the reports secret.

If the JPD is going to list crimes as active and under investigation, that should be their actual status. Otherwise, the reports should be released immediately as Arkansas law dictates.

We expect better of our police department when it comes to keeping our community informed about violent crimes. An informed public can better help law enforcement solve crimes.

___

Southwest Times Record. Feb. 17, 2019.

In recent years, sexual assault and domestic violence have become prominent topics for discussion, perhaps because the issues continue to hit home for so many people, or perhaps because victims are more willing to speak out. We are grateful to the people here in Fort Smith who are willing to lend a hand.

Local residents rallied in Fort Smith on Thursday to take a stand against sexual assault and domestic violence in a joint effort from the United Way of Fort Smith Area, the Fort Smith Crisis Intervention Center, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and others. The annual Rising in the River Valley event at the UAFS campus helps bring more awareness to sexual assault and domestic violence. The numbers are still staggering, even if that awareness has grown in recent years. UAFS Interim Chancellor Edward Serna said Thursday that everyone at the event was gathered in solidarity with the national One Billion Rising movement, so named because the number of women and girls who will face violence in their lifetime totals more than 1 billion.

Penni Burns, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Crisis Intervention Center, provided more statistics, including that one in five women is a rape survivor, one in three women and one in six men have experienced some type of domestic violence and how one in three teenagers experiences sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.

We appreciate the local leaders who took the time to rally Thursday for a cause that too often remains under wraps. Fort Smith needs its leaders — including its mayor, George McGill, and police chief, Nathaniel Clark, who were present at Thursday’s event — to be willing to stand up and say, “Enough is enough.” McGill made a proclamation declaring Thursday as Rising in the River Valley Day in Fort Smith.

But we’re even more grateful for the victims who are willing to come forward to share their stories. We can only imagine the pain, heartache and suffering they’ve gone through, but we find their courage inspiring. Sarah Rabb, a graduate student who leads Lions for Christ student ministry at UAFS said she was sexually assaulted between her junior and senior years of high school by someone she trusted. She did not report the incident because the confusion it left her with kept her from coming forward.

“I think a lot of people aren’t sure what happened to them, so if you go forward and you’re not confident in what happened to you, it’s like, ‘Can we take your story seriously?’” she said Thursday.

UAFS Student Government Vice President Taylor Wewers said coming forward can be difficult for college students because they may not realize there are resources available outside the campus. Thursday’s event was a great reminder of the help that’s out there, including at the Crisis Intervention Center. UAFS Police Chief Ray Ottman said these options help bridge the gap between the victim and law enforcement when it comes to sexual assault.

“A lot of times, not knowing is the intimidating factor,” Ottman said Thursday. “All of these resources help alleviate those concerns.”

What we as residents can do is help spread the word. We can be the one to lend a shoulder to cry on when and where and to whom it’s needed. We can offer support to victims no matter what their story is. We can listen without judgment and without shaming the victim, while remembering that it could happen to any one of us.

“We must have open dialogue with no shame and no fear,” Burns said Thursday. “We must not only be supportive, but responsive.”

Burns urged participants in Thursday’s rally to take one minute out of their day to inform someone of the statistics on sexual assault and domestic violence. She also encouraged them to share with others the local, state and national resources available to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She reminded everyone that services at the Crisis Intervention Center are completely confidential.

So thank you, United Way, Crisis Intervention Center, UAFS, local law enforcement and others, for spending a warm February day bringing us all together and for bringing more awareness to a topic that certainly could use it. We hope the event allowed local victims to realize they aren’t alone and that help is out there.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Feb. 19, 2019.

Ah, efficiency! What crimes have been committed in your name!

It was hard not to laugh — a bitter laugh — when we heard one of the arguments for House Bill 1041 before the Arkansas General Assembly. It would help cities operate “more efficiently.”

That is, it would remove the requirement for a lot of competitive bidding at the city government level. Right now, the rules say anything costing $20,000 or more, or $35,000 in the case of building projects, should be put out for bids. HB1041 would increase that to 50K overall.

Efficiency! they claim. And exclaim. You bet your brother-in-law’s driveway it would be efficient. That is, shaded from public view. No need for the mere taxpayers to get involved with details. Or be made aware of them. It’d be much more efficient if the mayor could buy a $49,999 piece of equipment from his buddy, or brother, without having to go through such bothersome bidding rules. How Louisiana. (Yes, it was a Louisiana state senator from the northern part of the state who, back in the 1990s, announced to his colleagues in Baton Rouge how sick he was of all this good government talk.)

The public only slows things down. For example, these competitive bids that save taxpayer money. And newspapers that report on those bids. That takes so much time. Much better--or rather, much more efficient, which is different — if these things could be sped through with a simple signature. Or maybe a wink.

What are some other arguments for this awful piece of legislation?

— It would save cities time and money by foregoing public notice requirements. It sure would! It might also save the local mayor or city council embarrassments from time to time.

— The new 50K-fits-all would keep folks from getting confused between the $20,000 requirement and the $35,000 for building projects. Because we all know how contractors get confused when given two numbers.

Not only does the letter of the would-be law put taxpayer money at risk, but the bill is also vague in parts. As when it says that cities can put aside all bidding in “exceptional” situations. What does the bill mean by exceptional? It’s exceptionally unclear. You can almost hear the doors being slammed and the blinds drawn.

The good folks over at the Arkansas Press Association have come out against the bill, which says a lot about the bill, and nothing good. When the watchdogs start howling, something is out there in the dark.

Here’s a question to ask lawmakers who vote for HB1041, which could come up for a vote again this week: Have local politicians in the last year proven somehow that they can be left to their own when it comes to these matters? And that they need even more leeway from the competitive bidding laws than the state already allows?

It’s an old and not very encouraging pattern: When taxpayers aren’t looking, change the rules to make it easier to spend their money. It’s just like government to devise a bidding process that reduces, or even eliminates, bidding.

Let’s not. “The fix is in” isn’t a fix. And this isn’t Louisiana.