Crime in the news

Published 10:00 am Saturday, May 20, 2017

LaGrange Chief of Public Safety, Lou Dekmar, is a very impressive man. A graduate of the FBI National Academy and the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar, Dekmar has been a member of, and led a number of statewide, national and international committees related to police work and law enforcement.

The LaGrange Police Department is one of approximately 700 police departments across the United States, out of a total of 18,000, that are accredited through the Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, and has been accredited since 1999. In addition, the LaGrange Police Department was identified by a team in Washington DC as one of three police agencies across the country that exercise best practices when interacting with someone who has a mental illness. LaGrange is lucky to have a man of Dekmar’s experience leading that department and our overall public safety initiative.

Dekmar took time out of his hectic schedule this week to meet with me and show me around the police station, which I enjoyed and appreciated. His intelligence and work ethic are immediately recognizable, as is his ability to connect well with those he works with. He is the kind of man who brings out the best in those he comes in contact with.

During our conversation this week, we touched on something I have been thinking about ever since. Specifically, the way crime is covered in the media. At the Rotary Club meeting May 10, Dekmar was the program speaker, and spoke to this topic briefly. His point on this matter was relatively simple. In 1994 there were 24,000 homicides in the United States, which had a population of 280 million at the time. In 2016 the United States had a population of roughly 325 million and there were approximately 12,000 homicides.

The homicide rate in the US has been essentially cut in half in the last 23 years, but, Dekmar said, that point can often go unnoticed because the media does not provide proper context when reporting the numbers.

This point has held my attention over the past week. How do we cover crime in a way that contextualizes it appropriately within the broader landscape of the community? Where is that line that determines when crime needs to be covered and when it does not?

The short answer to these questions is, simply, I don’t know. But I do know there is so much more good things happening in our community than bad, and it’s important for our newspaper to be an accurate reflection of who we are as a community.

As Dekmar stated in his Rotary presentation earlier last week, violent crime in LaGrange is down 23 percent from a year ago, and property crime is down 12 percent. Three years ago, there were nearly three dozen gang-related shootings in LaGrange, while so far this year there has been just one. While even one shooting is one too many, those are significant figures that show real improvement.

And yet, as is the case in every community, crime still exists. It is the job of the newspaper to report what takes place in the community, and the bad has to come alongside the good. We strive to be the mouthpiece this community deserves, and that will involve reporting on every element of our society.

Dekmar has not asked or insinuated crime need not be covered, it’s just the opposite. He praised the newspaper’s coverage of gang activity in recent years, and pointed to the fact it helped lead to more funding from the city in order to combat gang violence. His point, which is well-received, was to use shrewd judgement when discerning what to report, and to provide proper context for how crime fits into the overall landscape of the community. Not to report crime coverage in a manner that makes the city appear to be something it isn’t.

Chief, we hear you, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this type of coverage. I hope we can strike that balance well. Let me add to the many voices who have already given you their thanks and congratulations for the job our police and fire departments do. I look forward to continuing these conversations with you and others as we work to produce a quality community newspaper that accurately reflects the many good attributes LaGrange and Troup County, which far outweigh the bad.