STEPHEN BOUSER: About That Supposed Crime Wave Cover-Up
The rumor mill has been raging lately about a regular crime wave in normally tranquil Pinehurst. And The Pilot has supposedly been helping cover it up.
"What in the world is going on?" one jittery caller asked me. "My husband and I came back from out of town yesterday, and that's all anybody is talking about -- this rash of robberies. It was the talk of my mahjong club. Why haven't you had anything in the paper about it?" I received several letters and e-mails to the same effect.
That's why I'm glad I was on hand when the matter got aired during a meeting of the Pinehurst Village Council on Tuesday.
For the record:
First of all, we're not covering up anything. Second, while Pinehurst police have lately reported no "robberies" (that's when someone sticks a gun in your face and takes your money), they do confirm that there have been several break-ins (big difference) in unoccupied homes recently, particularly in the Diamond Head neighborhood.
The overall rate of such crimes in the village does not appear to be dramatically higher than in previous years, according to my understanding of what Capt. Floyd Thomas told the council Tuesday.
Thomas said the situation was not serious enough to justify allocation of any additional resources to his department. He also said that it's harder to catch the thieves red-handed because few homeowners take the trouble to keep an inventory of their valuables, along with serial numbers and other details. I could see several audience members making a mental note to go home and do so. It would be a good idea for all of us.
Apparently some of the rumors have it that we at The Pilot have been sitting on reports of a "crime wave" to keep people from getting riled up. More extreme versions have it that we are doing so because we're somehow in cahoots with Pinehurst Resort to keep from scaring guests away.
Though there's nothing funny about crime, pardon me for smiling at that particular aspect of the stories going around. As I couldn't resist telling the Village Council, it's almost refreshing to hear us at The Pilot and the news media in general being accused of playing down bad news for a change. Usually the complaint is that we give too much ink to scary trends and disturbing occurrences and pay too little attention to good news.
We're not in the business of suppressing information about anything. We're here to report the news, and we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this particular situation and get the truth out to the public. Staff Writer John Krahnert has worked hard to get at the facts about the break-ins, and his story appears at the top of today's front page.
From a journalistic standpoint, there is a particular twist involved here: Not every "routine" crime (though no crime seems routine to the victim) rises to the magnitude of deserving coverage. But if a multitude of minor crimes add up to a "rash," then the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts and calls for more attention. My experience, though, is that rumors of "rashes" of crimes often get exaggerated in the retelling, as in a game of "Telephone." And one of the main functions of a newspaper is rumor control.
While I can state categorically that we at The Pilot haven't been sitting on any crime news for ulterior motives, now or ever, I do acknowledge that we are sometimes spotty in our law-enforcement coverage.
This can be a special problem in a county like ours, with a dozen small towns, most of which have their own police departments -- whose typed or handwritten reports have to be sorted through in person. When staff members are stretched thin and there are other big stories -- murder trials and annexation battles -- crying out for coverage, daily crime reports can fall through the cracks.
I hate it when that happens -- especially if our silence leaves an information vacuum that gossip and misinformation and exaggeration rush to fill. Managing Editor David Sinclair and I are now working on plans for some overdue changes in procedure to help remedy that situation and make it possible for us to offer our readers a more consistent and comprehensive report on police cases large and small.
Stay tuned. Meanwhile, don't believe everything you hear.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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