Mayor Byron Brown has once again pledged to make more complete crime records available to the press.
I know, you've read this before. This is actually round three of the drama.
He first pledged in August to restore access his police brass had restricted in a snit over Buffalo News crime coverage. He renewed that commitment in October, when the department was dragging its feet. I reported Tuesday that, after a period of improvement, the department was again backsliding, leaving reporters with access to less information than has historically been the norm, and what we consider necessary to provide accurate coverage.
Peter Cutler, the mayor's spokesman, said he filled Brown in Tuesday morning based on what I had reported in my blog and that the boss was not happy.
Cutler said the mayor "expressed his concern that some information may not be as readily available as he might expect.
"Mayor Brown remains committed to the agreement reached earlier with The Buffalo News regarding access to the information necessary to provide accurate reporting on crime in the city," Cutler said.
Cutler said the mayor planned on sending a letter Tuesday to Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and his deputies instructing them to provide incident and arrest reports that are reasonably complete.
Let me make it easy for Gipson and company.
Your report technicians, some of whom use seniority to rake in overtime that pumps up their salaries to as much as $90,000, should include the addresses and date of birth of defendants when inputting felony arrests. It's in the paperwork they work from, so it shouldn't be difficult.
Likewise, include the address and DOB of crime victims, along with the location of the crime scene. It's a matter of public record. We reporters aren't necessarily going to publish the information, but we need it for fact-checking. And sometimes it's newsworthy. Most officers and detectives include the information in the written reports they submit that the RTs work from.
I also spoke Tuesday with Ellicott Common Council Member Brian Davis, who is chairman of the Police Oversight Committee.
"I would assume that all the information is there," he said. "If it's not, its something we will look at in the Police Oversight Committee."
I'll admit to feeling a bit for Brown on this chapter. I participated in a meeting in October in which he and News Editor Margaret Sullivan tried to put this issue to bed. I got the distinct impression he wanted this issue to go away - it does nothing but hurt him politically. I don't think the latest episode is of his doing.
What's the problem? I don't know. Either there are elements of the police brass who want to continue jousting with the press over access to information or they are tolerating sloppy work by their clerks.
Regardless, the public, which depends largely on the press for crime coverage, deserves better.
So do the cops who sometimes work with these reports in trying to solve crime. Imagine being a detective calling up a report in anticipation of contacting a crime victim only to find out all you've got to work with is a name. No street address, no city. Just a name. Like, maybe, Smith. Hardly makes it easy for a cop to do his job.