Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Paper chases story about police chases, overcomes city's roadblocks of efforts to get records

When the town of Oak Grove, Ky., population 7,000, refused to give the Kentucky New Era of nearby Hopkinsville a copy of a police report of an accident that ended a police chase, "the paper began a lengthy investigation of police pursuits in Oak Grove," writes Julia Hunter, whose stories on the subject appeared in the 11,000-circulation daily last weekend. (Photo of Oak Grove cruiser by Danny Vowell of the New Era)

"It was one of at least 12 high-speed Oak Grove police pursuits in a six-month period between March and December 2007," Hunter wrote in her main story. "Five of these resulted in wrecks and four people were injured. . . . Eleven reports were issued to the New Era as a result of the request. It is unknown how many are still under investigation, and, therefore, how many were omitted."

In her sidebar about the difficulty of obtaining records from the city, overcome with help of the state attorney general's office, Hunter illustrated why such stories are worth pursing (no pun intended). First, she quoted a telling statistic from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that one person dies every day as a result of a police pursuit. Then she quoted, a group that pushes for safer police pursuits: “When an innocent is killed, most reporters are spurred to ask the questions that need to be asked, to do the research that needs to be done. Unfortunately, if they had done this in the cases they reported previously, where no fatality resulted, they might have prevented the death of an innocent bystander.”

Police chases are big news in small towns. In our mailbox today, with the weekend edition of the New Era, was the nearby McLean County News from last week. Its main headline: "Police chase leads to arrest." The weekly is not available online.

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