Crime info demanded by citizen

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:37 PM

“It is not readily available and it should be,” Grand Haven Township resident Laird Schafer said. “It should be made available and reprinted in the Grand Haven Tribune.”

Schafer’s quest to obtain a log of police activity from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department began after seeing other community crime reports published in the Tribune. 

The Grand Haven Department of Public Safety and Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department provide the Tribune with information regarding the date and time, block of the street where it occurred, and nature of incidents that public safety officers handle in the cities of Grand Haven and Ferrysburg and Spring Lake Village.

“I noticed this was being published regularly, but there was no such report for Grand Haven Township,” Schafer said.

Schafer said he spoke to Sheriff Gary Rosema, who directed him to the Ottawa County Incident Mapping website. The map shows some crime incidents by date range by township or city, and gives a general area where something occurred, not a street or block. The incident mapping sometimes includes brief information about the initial call for assistance, but not any outcomes such as arrests.

To see the Ottawa County Incident Mapping website, CLICK HERE.

“I find that website to be very unhelpful,” Schafer said. “A dog’s breakfast is the way I’d describe it.”

Schafer noted that it was impossible to get the same picture of what was happening in the community as could be gleaned from the reports given from Grand Haven city and Spring Lake/Ferrysburg police departments.

“I’d like to see the township do something to get that general information to the general public,” Schafer said, who also noted that the township pays for Sheriff’s Department services, and therefore should be given information about deputies’ activities.

Township Supervisor Karl French said that any action taken by the township — such as a request to the county for this information — would have to be a board decision.

“I don’t read (the Public Safety Activities log), at least not faithfully, but there are people who have interest in it and knowing more about it,” French said. “There are people who want to see what is going on.”

Tribune Publisher Kevin Hook said the newspaper requested public safety log information from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department nearly a year ago. Sheriff's officials continue to decline to provide that public information.

"People have the right to know what's happening in their neighborhoods, and to know how well their taxpayer dollars are being spent on public safety services," Hook said. "The Sheriff Department's unwillingness to provide basic information — such as the street and block where a crime occurs — is unacceptable."

Other local police agencies have provided important crime information to the Tribune as a public service, for which Hook thanks them. He said the Tribune's readers look to the public safety activity log for need-to-know information, and they ask why Grand Haven, Crockery, Robinson and Spring Lake townships are not included.

"It's not for lack of trying," Hook said. "Providing public information to our community is a responsibility we take very seriously at the Tribune. We're glad when residents like Mr. Schafer stand up and demand that this public information be provided. It only bolsters our plea for public records."

Ottawa County Sheriff's Department records director Scott Brovont didn’t return messages seeking comment. In an e-mail in March, Brovont said the department was still working to see what they could do to accommodate such a log, but didn’t have “an estimate at this time” about when such information might be provided.

Public records expert and lawyer Joseph Richotte said that the core function of policing is to protect and serve the public. The public, he said, has a strong interest in knowing where crimes occur, how quickly police respond to a crime, and whether criminal activity is taking place on the streets where they live.

Richotte said this kind of basic information should be available at the click of a few keyboard buttons, and that the question to the Sheriff’s Department — from a public relations standpoint — is: Why not offer this information?

“Such information not only allows the public to judge whether law enforcement is doing its job well — which is particularly important when the top cop is an elected official, like a county sheriff — but such information also allows members of the public to know whether they need to take additional steps to better protect their safety if crime is on the rise in their community,” Richotte said.

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