You Screwed Up. Admitting Vs. Shutting Up

There are times I walk away from a story impressed.

There are times I walk away knowing the person I interviewed is remorseful and interested in the public good.  Other times, I think maybe I just talked to someone more interested in their image and self preservation.

And let’s face it, who am I to judge against self preservation in a time like this?  You lose your job today and you don’t know that you’ll land on your feet.

However, when you’re talking about law enforcement officers, an interest in the public good is supposed to carry weight above all else.  Supposed to.

This week, I experienced two entirely different reactions to negative news about a police department.  I also left those stories with entirely different opinions of said police departments.

TUESDAY:  SEDALIA, MISSOURI

What happened to Rebekah Marcus was horrific.

That’s the word Marcus’ neighbor, Crystal Vasquez, used to describe the scene she and a family member found inside the 76-year-old woman’s home last week.  She’d been stabbed, choked, and beaten severely in the head.  The probable cause statement filed by Sedalia Police said the knife was still in her chest when she was found.  Police eventually arrested the man Marcus called her “adopted son” for murder.

The probable cause statement also showed a 911 call placed from Marcus’ home an hour and a half before she was found.  Dispatchers say no one was on the other end of the line.

Anyone familiar with emergency responders or 911 dispatch knows hang ups or silent calls are usually responded to by sending an officer to check the area the call’s coming from.  Sedalia Police have such a policy.

Someone dropped the ball.

Around the same time the call from Marcus’ house came in, another burglary-in-progress call went out from a local law office.  Officers responded to the burglary call, but not to Marcus.

To be fair, Sedalia Police Chief John DeGonia says evidence strongly suggests Marcus was already dead by the time the 911 call came in, and he believes someone else made the call.  DeGonia won’t say who “someone else” is.  Read between the lines, however, and I think it’s logical to assume police have evidence the murder suspect placed the call for some unknown reason.

Anyway, DeGonia made it clear he doesn’t think his officers could have prevented Marcus’ murder.

What he did want people to know is that his officers made an honest (though crucial) mistake.  He wanted the public to know a policy was in place, it was there for good reason, and he’s going to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again because the responsibility ultimately rests on his shoulders.

It was the right way to handle the situation.

Vasquez flat put it out there:  “You really want to trust the law enforcement you have here in town and if they’re not going to answer to one response, what’s not to say if something else happens?  You know, are they really doing to be there?”

DeGonia was ahead of those questions, though.  Before people could even wonder what’ll happen next time, he was admitting the mistake to say there won’t be a next time.

WEDNESDAY:  RANDOLPH, MISSOURI

Mention “speeding tickets” to anyone familiar with Randolph, Missouri, and they laugh.  They smile, cock their heads, and give you that, “Oh, you have no idea,” laugh.

Randolph is an extremely small town in the Kansas City metro area just off of I-435 Highway.  It also sits right in between the highway and Ameristar Casino, one of the city’s largest gambling venues.

Randolph’s speed limit is 20 miles per hour.

You can see where this would attract speeding tickets.  So many speeding tickets, in fact, it’s illegal.

Missouri law states cities can only have a maximum of 35% of their budget come from traffic tickets.  Anymore than that and you have to give the money to the state revenue department to be passed along to area schools.

In Randolph?  The Missouri State Auditor announced Wednesday the town’s ratio is somewhere between 75% and 83%.

There are a couple of issues here.  How often people are pulled over (which parents and teachers from a local day care assured me is astounding), city officials allowing this to happen, and the city not reporting its financial stats to the state.

When I went to Randolph, the reaction from those involved was exactly the opposite of Sedalia.

The police officer waiting for speeders didn’t pull anyone over in the 30 minutes we watched him, despite several drivers who passed him appearing to violate the speed limit.  This same police officer avoided our cameras later by changing his route and his blinker after noticing we were at locations he’d planned to check.

Despite making contact, we received no comment from the police chief, the city prosecutor, and the municipal court judge.

What we were left with in our 10:00 story was angry parents and teachers from the day care blasting police, a state audit saying Randolph had to pay back about $40,000 to $54,000, and from the town itself…no comment.

THE UPSHOT

Mistake stories are what they are.

I usually walk up to people who’ve screwed up with an attitude of, “Let’s be realistic.  You know why we’re here.  What’s your side of the story?”

There’s no point in beating around the bush.  I’m not going to bash them.  They did that on their own.  I can give their point of view or their plan to move forward if they’re willing to share it.

The impressive thing is we’ve been told since childhood it’s better to come clean and move on.  I’m not saying I’m surprised some adults still don’t admit their mistakes.  I’m not naive.  I’m just saying it’s impressive.

Some people impress.  Others leave an impression.

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One Response to “You Screwed Up. Admitting Vs. Shutting Up”

  1. Rob2553 Says:

    I have to agree with you, Cliff. I’ve found I’m left with a much better opinion of a person or organization when they’re willing to actually admit that mistake and explain how they’ll prevent it. Unfortunately, I’ve also found we’ve gotten far from what we learned in kindergarten. More often people who have actually made the mistake simply try to conceal it, downplay it or pass the blame (take the BP oil spill). I think everyone could do with a little more honesty.

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