Our View: Investigation raises credibility issues


Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Police officers put their lives on the line every time they button their uniforms. They have tough jobs made all the tougher in 2017 by the prevalence of phone cameras, social media and pesky critics. We're grateful for every one of these brave men and women in Rocky Mount, the Twin Counties and far beyond.

But the safety of a community has to be assessed on a regular basis to see how well our law enforcement officers protect us and investigate criminal offenses. And the numbers have to be accurate and credibly compiled to instill community confidence in a police force.

The Rocky Mount Police Department has a credibility issue.

A recent crime report called "phenomenal" by Chief James Moore has raised questions from law enforcement officials in other agencies, a former police chief and even officers inside the Rocky Mount Police Department.

A Telegram investigation led by Lindell John Kay and Amelia Harper found that Rocky Mount police often categorize serious incidents under more benign sounding terms.

Shootings into occupied houses, for example, have been labeled "property damage" even though most of the rest of us would consider them life-threatening attacks.

In at least one instance, police responded to a victim's call about an attempted armed robbery but failed to file a report until much later – after the victim called police again to complain about his tires being flattened, possibly by the same parties who earlier stuck a gun in his face and demanded money.

In another instance, police didn't drive to the scene of a commercial burglary at all. Even though the case involved the loss of copper wire and property damage estimated at a total of $75,000. Adding insult to injury, Nash County deputies responded to the scene after a frustrated business owner contacted them. The deputies made four arrests in connection with the burglary and theft just a few days afterward.

Community leaders have winced in the past about reports that make crime in Rocky Mount look worse than statistics in other similar sized cities in North Carolina. Those numbers make it tougher to attract new businesses and industries, a challenge we should all be mindful of achieving.

But soft-peddling serious incidents doesn't help, particularly when skeptics are crying foul. It raises questions about the level of commitment police administrators have to solving crimes and protecting lives and property.

Rocky Mount city leaders have promised to bring in the FBI and set some clear guidelines on terminology and transparency.

That's a start. But when police are failing to file timely reports or not bothering even to visit the scene of a serious commercial burglary, we expect to see a stronger response on the part of our mayor, City Council and city manager.

Crime happens everywhere. The way a city responds to the issue is what raises community safety and confidence in leadership. That should be an urgent priority in the wake of the Telegram's investigation.