What’s this? A police force presenting an award to a local newspaper to recognise its contribution to reducing crime? Some mistake, surely? The modern relationship between chief constable and editor should be one of mutual distrust and unhelpfulness, shouldn’t it? So recent correspondence would have us believe.
Apparently not. Thames Valley Police last week applauded the Reading Post’s coverage of street robberies – in particular its naming of villains put away for muggings on the town’s streets. They, in turn, should be applauded for the acknowledgement.
But – and there’s always a but when it comes to police-press relations – this is the same force that has come in for severe criticism from a number of other sources for its refusal to co-operate in releasing details of crimes. Just take a look at Lawrence Webb’s letter on this page. So does the Post award represent a dramatic change in attitude for Thames Valley and other forces? Let’s hope so.
Before we get too carried away, though, let’s take a look at the situation in Somerset.
Philip Welch, who edits the Mid-Somerset Newspapers series, has had to fight a three-week battle to reinstate a flow of crime information from Avon and Somerset Police. The force had decided it could see no point in releasing details of crimes unless there was a "positive aspect from a police point of view".
Welch won his fight, but the fact he had to go into the ring at all is another indication of many editors’ experience: that they are increasingly only allowed to report crime stories that the police are prepared to release.
It may cross some readers’ minds that the Reading Post’s award is simply an extension of that experience – all the muggers it named had already been collared, after all. We wouldn’t be so cynical. But we would point out that perhaps there is room to build on it as a move in the right direction.
Regional papers can and should be trusted to report crime responsibly, whether those crimes are solved or not. The more forces believe this, and accept that readers have a right to know the true picture of crime in their neighbourhood, the lower those barriers of distrust and unhelpfulness between journalist and police officer will become.