If the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department had its druthers, we wouldn’t know about any of the major crimes — sexual assault and domestic violence included — that occur in our area until the perpetrator has been arrested, charged and completely ushered through the court system.
We also wouldn’t know the streets on which minor incidents occurred, or if there were any arrests or citations in those incidents.
For nearly a year, the Tribune has been able to provide to our readers a log of public safety activities in the Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg areas. We thank the local police departments for collaborating in providing valuable information to the community.
For about as long, however, the Tribune has asked the Sheriff’s Department to assist in this endeavor to provide similar information for the townships of Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Crockery and Robinson. They have failed to deliver.
We feel that it is necessary to arm our citizens with information about crimes or incidents that occur in their neighborhoods. This information — which is public under FOIA laws — is important. It allows residents to know why there was a police car next door, or why a fire truck sat one street over. These residents may then make an informed decision regarding how to best protect themselves and their families.
It’s not like we’re out to print your address when something happens at your house. We simply feel people have the right to know when criminal activities are taking place on their block.
One reader suggested that people simply ask the Sheriff’s Department about all of the crime in their neighborhood. Good luck with that. Officials will just point you to their incident mapping online.
The mapping shows a general area where some calls for assistance originate. It doesn’t tell you the street officers were dispatched to, or any outcomes. The county also excludes any domestic violence, sexual assaults or drug incidents — to name just a few crimes that never make the map.
So, as one Grand Haven Township resident put it so eloquently, that leaves us with an unhelpful “dog’s breakfast.”
When issued FOIA requests for reports or other public documents related to cases, the Sheriff’s Department often responds in a similar manner. Most requests are delayed, denied or otherwise foiled.
There’s a lot of dodging and weaving going on at the Fillmore Street Complex with regards to providing public information.
A Tribune reader recently asked in an e-mail to us: “Why the arrogance from that office, why the stonewalling?”
Good question, sir, good question.
Perhaps as more citizens stand up and demand the release of public records, they’ll be handed over with less “stonewalling.” It’d be the right thing to do.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.