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Bring in a new era of openness

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Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The pending retirement of Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore presents several opportunities for city leaders to turn the corner toward credible reporting, open communication and fruitful partnerships with other law enforcement agencies.

We wish the chief well in retirement, but his tenure with the city will be remembered with an asterisk. Under Moore’s leadership, the categorization of local crime reports often skewed toward innocuous labels that undermined the seriousness of some offenses. What other agencies would deem “shooting into an occupied dwelling,” for example, was filed as “property damage.” In at least one incident, local police didn’t even respond to the scene of a serious commercial burglary. Yet two weeks later, Nash County deputies were able to make arrests in connection with the incident.

What’s worse, under Moore’s watch, those less troublesome crime labels were used when the Rocky Mount Police Department provided its annual summary of criminal activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The intent seems clear: In a city that has suffered -- often unfairly -- with a reputation for a high volume of crime, the department under Moore sought to downplay serious incidents in an effort to polish the perception of the City on the Rise.

A Telegram investigation led by staff writers Lindell John Kay and Amelia brought much of the shenanigans to light earlier this year. Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs promised to bring in the FBI and set some clear guidelines on terminology and transparency.

We hope -- no, we urge Combs and other city leaders to follow through on that promise, even though Moore is retiring. His successor will no doubt face similar pressures when it comes to putting Rocky Mount’s best foot forward. But mischaracterizing crime is a dangerous practice, especially for those of who live and work in Rocky Mount and want to see our community thrive.

In addition to this important change, we urge the city to take other steps toward a more open and responsive public safety department.

■ Make the hunt for a new chief as engaging and open as possible. Bring candidates before the community in an open forum. Let the folks who will be served by the new chief ask questions of those who wish to succeed him.

■ Encourage the new chief to foster better relationships with surrounding law enforcement agencies. Nash and Edgecombe counties both have relatively new sheriffs who are developing innovative initiatives to tackle gangs, interstate drug trafficking and economically depressed Gold Rock.

As the largest municipality in either county, Rocky Mount should at least be a partner in those efforts, if not leading the charge.

Most of the people in this community are intelligent enough to recognize that change and improvement don’t happen overnight. But we’re also smart enough to know when we’re being sold a bill of goods about “phenomenal” crime rate improvements.

This community has so much potential and so many great things happening already. Let’s make public safety part of that success story.

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