“Holy cow, what’s up with this surge of violence in Rapid City?”
“I don’t remember Rapid ever being this bad. It seems lately there have been a lot of problems.”
Both of those comments come directly from our Facebook page, and we’ve seen a lot of others like them in the last few months. I can understand where those comments are coming from. After all, there has been a lot of high-profile crime in our town lately. In the first half of 2012 alone, we’ve had people shoot at us (twice) and at each other (multiple times), we have investigated the still-unsolved homicide of Robert Ghostbear and the violent murder of Morgan Myers. We’ve investigated armed robberies, many aggravated assaults, and countless other crimes.
But before we start declaring that Rapid City crime is soaring, there are a couple of things I want to explain. First, calls for service in 2011 were actually down slightly from the year before. And so far this year, we haven’t seen a dramatic increase in calls for service. So what’s going on?
There are a lot of factors at play here, and I won’t pretend to understand all of them. But here’s a big one: you’re probably hearing about more crime than you used to, because we’re talking about it more.
We’re trying to be transparent. There’s been a call for government agencies to be more open, and we’re not taking that lightly. About a year and a half ago we started hosting a daily media briefing call, where reporters can ask questions about any incidents that occurred during the previous 24 hours. RCPD officers respond to hundreds of calls every day, and there’s almost always something happening that the media will consider ‘newsworthy.’ It’s up to each media outlet to decide whether to run a story, but we’re doing our best to put the information out there.
I think the public has a right to know what’s happening in the community. The public has a right to know when crimes happen, where they happen, and what the police are doing to solve it. Of course, the details of open investigations aren’t subject to open records laws, and for good reason. Sometimes we need to hold back a few things to avoid jeopardizing a case. But for the most part, we’re happy to tell the public what we’re working on.
Social media also plays a big part in this. The RCPD uses social media to connect with the community, and it works. Nearly 8,000 people follow us on Facebook, and we do our best to keep the followers on all of our social media sites updated in real time. But it also means that the public hears about incidents as soon as they happen, and information spreads much faster than it used to. Take, for example, an incident that used to warrant only a 15-second story on the 10 o’clock news, seen one time by a sampling of local residents. Today that same story will be posted to Facebook and Twitter, where it might be shared dozens of times over several days. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just means that information moves differently than it used to.
Our efforts to be transparent go both ways. It means that we share the good things as well as the bad. It means that when a former mayor, who is a prominent public figure and therefore newsworthy, refuses to pull over on a traffic stop or follow police directions, that’s something we share with both the media and the public. We have a responsibility to share information with the community, and explain why officers act as they do. In the case of a high-profile arrest, it might be important to explain how and why the arrest occurred. You’ll hear from our perspective, about the procedures, hazards and so on.
It’s no secret that crime makes the news. Maybe someday crime will cease to exist, and you’ll never see another headline about the RCPD. Until then, we’re going to continue doing our part to keep the public safe. One piece of that safety puzzle is keeping you informed. If we told you about last night’s crime spree in such-and-such neighborhood, just up the street from you, would you take better safety precautions tonight? Lock your doors, and make sure your purse was inside your house, instead of sitting on the front seat of the car in the driveway? I sure hope so.