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The story behind the delayed story

Our View: Crime

Posted: April 4, 2009 11:15 p.m.
Updated: April 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

"What took you so long?"

That's what some readers wanted to know when we reported on a Canyon Country teenager getting thrown into the back of a vehicle and groped on her way home from school - a week after it happened.

"It would have been nice to read about it the next day, so we parents could know to be on the lookout," readers complained.

"What if the assailant returned and did the same thing to our daughter? It's your job to warn us."

A completely understandable reaction.

The incident occurred on a Wednesday. We didn't learn about it until the following Monday. Sheriff's officials couldn't confirm it until Tuesday, and you read about it on Wednesday.

It wasn't for our lack of asking. We monitor the police radio religiously, and we talk to the local deputies several times each day.

In our experience, deputies are human. Getting information out of some of them is like pulling teeth.

Others understand that part of their job is to prevent crimes and keep people safe by telling the press what's going on so we can tell you to be alert for thus-and-such a suspect fitting thus-and-such a description.

Was this one of those cases? Were they just not telling us? What took them so long?

We sat down with Capt. Anthony LaBerge to get some answers.

For starters, the incident occurred on a Wednesday but the girl didn't report it to the Sheriff's Department until Thursday.

We didn't hear the call go out over the radio because there was nothing on the radio to hear. Deputies didn't respond to the incident while it was unfolding because they weren't told it was happening.

When the victim reported the crime Thursday, procedure dictates the information would have been routed to a detective. A detective's job is to detect - they often don't want to release too many details for fear of tipping off the bad guys.

In this case, they didn't release any information at all. You didn't know to be extra cautious when sending your kids to school because it wasn't on the deputies' list of things to tell the press when we made our routine calls to the SCV Station on Thursday - or Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Was that wrong? In our view, yes. You had a right to know a perpetrator was lurking in your neighborhood - or contrarily, if detectives had reason to believe there was no further threat, you should have been duly informed.

Was there a mistake in the release of information? Evidently so; the captain admitted as much to us.

By Monday, we were starting to get calls from Canyon Country residents: Did you hear about ...?

No, we still hadn't heard. It was news to us. The police report wasn't immediately available Monday when we started making calls.

Not until Tuesday did deputies confirm that there was a victim who had reported such a crime.

You read it in the next day's paper.

Like you, many of us at The Signal are parents and we're dismayed when we don't get the information right away.

But sometimes there is a fine line between informing the community and alarming it - both for law enforcement and for us.

Of late there has been all sorts of erroneous information circulating about all sorts of criminal activity - that didn't actually exist.

We've seen bogus e-mails about a gang fight allegedly scheduled at a major retail outlet. No such event occurred.

We've seen bogus e-mails about a suspicious maroon van - or was it a white van? - lurking in neighborhoods. It turned out to be a carpet cleaner plying his trade.

SCV deputies were quick to dispel those myths; after all, scores of worried e-mail recipients tied up phone lines at the SCV Sheriff's Station.

That's why we're diligent about confirming information before we report it - including the incident of the teenager who reported being groped on her way home from school.

If you want rumors, read your e-mail.

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