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From the Publisher

Taking a closer look at police reports

By Todd Yamashita

Let’s face it – many of you look forward to reading The Molokai Dispatch to scan the monthly police report for names of people you know. The log lists offenses that range from “contempt of court” to “driving under the influence” and clues us in to those who haven’t been law-abiding.

What we do with that information varies. It can provide us with fodder for gossip. Offenses like “abuse of family member,” however, remind us that behind closed doors, serious social problems exist which can proliferate when left in the shadows.

This month, Hawaiiloa Mowatt received calls from anxious friends and family members after they had read in the Dispatch that Mowatt was “in custody” for “criminal contempt.” According to Mowatt, the real story is that he’d received a citation after a neighbor complained about his dog. The violation, which went overdue, had recently been paid and Mowatt was certainly not in custody.

In Mowatt’s case, readers end up focusing on the only details that are present – mainly “criminal” and “in custody” – and use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. Meanwhile, Mowatt is left scrambling to explain himself to his boss and everyone else in his social circle.

The charges found in The Molokai Dispatch police report are printed directly from the records available to the public just behind the police station front door. It is not feasible to fact-check every entry with the police, and indeed, errors in the log made by law enforcement are almost always repeated in the newspaper.

While possible errors may an argument against publishing the log, there are also benefits to its publishing which merit reflection. In terms of prevention, it could be argued that we are all more careful of the law because we don’t want our own names (myself included) to appear in the pages of The Molokai Dispatch.

The report can also be a catalyst for positive change. An increase in serious crimes, such as physical and sexual abuse, are a cry for help from victims who might otherwise remain voiceless.

Finally, we must consider kindness towards those who have violated the law. The people whose names appear in the log have an added social burden to manage after appearing in the newspaper. Some may argue it comes with the territory. But I think we should keep in mind that the justice department is already setup to deliver justice. Thus, is it more compassionate to let the institution do what it is supposed to without the additional blow of public condemnation?

The printing of the police log has been a practice of The Molokai Dispatch for many years. It is a routine inherited from a time when newspapers served a different focus purpose for Molokai. However in the name of community-building, which today’s Dispatch holds as its paramount goal, the publishing of the police log deserves scrutinizing discussion. It is my hope that we hear some of your perspectives and whether the police log should continue to be published.

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