OPINION: A Matter of Public Safety

Published 8:00 am Saturday, July 11, 2020

A quick scroll through this summer’s pages of the Oxford Eagle might show a startling lack of felony criminal activity – however, that doesn’t mean serious crime has come to a halt altogether in Oxford.  

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Within the last two months alone, more than a dozen felonies have been committed in the LOU community, but EAGLE hasn’t received background information for many of them. Part of this is due to reduced or furloughed staff at Oxford Police Department, thanks to COVID-19 budget cuts, but another part is due to what has been called a “conscious social decision” when it comes to the way felony arrests are reported to news outlets by law enforcement entities.  

As managing editor of the EAGLE, I have long believed that – regardless of demographic information – if a person commits a felony, a crime brief should run in the newspaper. This isn’t an effort to make a statement based on race or socioeconomic status. Rather, it is a matter of public safety.  

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If a crime is committed in our community, our readers deserve to know where and when it happened, so as to better protect themselves and be aware that yes, crime does happen here and we should not be naïve about it. 

Since June 19, individuals in our community have been arrested for the following crimes: One arrest for possession of burglary tools; three arrests for possession of a weapon by a felon; one arrest for a home burglary and causing a juvenile to commit a felony; two arrests for commercial burglary; one arrest for domestic violence; one arrest for felony shoplifting; three arrests for possession of a controlled substance and one arrest for grand larceny.  

While our readers can still see the basic information (names, charges, bond amounts) about these arrests in the jail docket every weekend, is that sufficient enough when it comes to alerting the public that there are potentially dangerous criminals in the community? 

Due to recent national events that have sparked a movement for police reform, there has been much discussion of whether mugshots should be published in newspapers or online. Some police departments and newspapers around the country have taken the plunge, so to speak, and made the decision to stop publishing mugshots altogether. 

It’s a valid point; some are of the opinion that publishing mugshots can reinforce or create racial biases, or that online mugshots are a “digital Scarlet Letter” or even that just because they are legally public record, that doesn’t make it right. 

Those things are understandable, especially when talking about misdemeanor arrests (for which the EAGLE will never publish a mugshot or full crime brief). 

However, when a serious crime is committed, mugshot or no mugshot, it is irresponsible to provide little to no background information to the public. 

The LOU Community deserves to know where and when an individual has burglarized a home or business. They deserve to know who is trafficking controlled substances in felony amounts. They deserve to know when a convicted felon has reoffended and been found in possession of a weapon.  

It’s a matter of public safety.