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'Police should open up to cut fear of crime' – SoE chief

Editors believe more information – and not less – from the police would help reduce the public’s fear of crime.

Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell claims the police often withhold information when it suits them – and then run to the press for help when they need a public appeal.

Speaking at the Society’s Scottish conference, Bob (left) said he feared the Data Protection Act was being used as an excuse not to release information to the press.

And he said it was vital that editors and senior police officers developed a level of trust and understanding.

He said: “One problem we find with the relationship is that sometimes the police will come to us and say: ‘Please help us’ and we bend over backwards to do that.”

He feared there was too much talk in police headquarters of ‘managing the media’.

But added: “You couldn’t say anything worse to an editor or journalist – we will never be managed. If you want trust then you want a media relationship policy.

“If there was more reporting about crime rather than less then it would help reduce the fear of crime.”

More specific information about where burglaries, thefts and attacks occurred would help the public take their own precautions rather than the community thinking it would not happen to them, he said.

And he added it was vital the police released names of those involved in incidents as it would then stick in people’s minds and resonate with readers more.

He said: “The whole community has rights – the right to know what’s going on in the community and the right to know what’s being done about it.

“Everyone in this room is concerned about victim’s rights – we want to comfort them. They are our readers.”

Bob said that the commonly-held belief that justice must be done and be seen to be done was as true now as it had ever been.

But he said he feared communities were being let down by the police and courts when dealing with policing issues like anti-social behaviour orders.

He said: “How can the community help the police in policing the community without knowing who the ASBO relates to?”

He welcomed the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act and said police and press needed to work together to “foster a culture of openness”.

One of Scotland’s leading policemen, Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Malcolm Dickson (right), said the media and the police were playing on the same side – and should be building stronger working relationships.

He told the conference: “We have similar aims: both inform the public, we prevent crime, detect crime and affect change for the better.”

And he said both police and newspapers used investigation, gathering evidence and reporting to affect their own aims.

“We also have the same customers: the general public, opinion formers, policy makers and victims and criminals.”

He said the police and press were on the same side but conceded that they were “playing with different offside rules and different priorities”.

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©NEP 2004