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Police keep changing their story

A different day, a different reason from the police brass as to why they've stripped incident reports of basic information such as the address of crime locations. Here's a link to today's follow-up story.

Last October, Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson informed The News in writing that he planned on taking away online access to the reports altogether because it represented "a preferential position compared to the other media." I guess it was our fault only The News takes the initiative to access the records on a computer at Police HQ.

Tuesday, Mike DeGeorge, the department's flak, had a different reason: To protect the ability of police to conduct investigations. Never mind that we withhold sensitive information about ongoing investigations when the police ask us to, or that the street where a crime happens is hardly hush-hush information.

Wednesday, DeGeorge offered yet another reason. The department can't vouch for the accuracy of the incident reports. In other words, he said, we can't trust our own reports. I'm sure defense attorneys around town are happy to hear this.

I can hardly wait to see what DeGeorge has to say today.

The flip-flopping didn't stop there.

On Tuesday, DeGeorge said police officials had no intention of reconsidering their decision to strip incident reports of such basics as the location of the crime.

Wednesday, however, he told Luke Moretti of WIVB-TV, News 4 Buffalo, that the department was willing to work towards a solution. He added: "It's difficult to negotiate with people who don't want to negotiate back." Here's the story.

"Nobody from the city called me today," News Editor Margaret Sullivan told me Wednesday night, hours after DeGeorge spoke to Ch. 4.

"I spent months talking with city officials," Sullivan said, "thought we had a resolution, and then found out they unilaterally changed the understanding with no notice."

In the spirit of trying to resolve this, let me float this idea, one that ought to come naturally to a police department:

Follow the law.

The information the police are stripping out of reports is a matter of public record. Don't take my word for it, listen to Bob Freeman, the universally respected expert on this stuff, who serves as executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

"In my opinion it's clear that there is a failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Law," Freeman told Ch. 4. "We have laws, and the laws have to be followed by everybody, including police agencies."

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Buffalo police, crime
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