Homeland Association and crime information
The head of North Baltimore's Homeland Association wrote to me today to take issue with my column on Sunday on how his group distributes information about crime. Some residents of Homeland and others living in neighboring communities object to the association limiting its distribution list to dues-paying members.
They argue that the information should be more broadly published to help both keep people safe and catch those responsible. Amber Elburn, who refuses to join the Homeland Association, is taking information she gets from friends and reposting items on an alternative web site. That prompted Homeland to seek out attorneys regarding possible copyright violations.
I argue that crime information should be better distributed by the city to avoid each community posting separate blogs and email lists. But that would require a fundamental shift in the approach the city takes to giving out such information.
Here is the response from Homeland's president, Robert Fiore, reprinted with his permission:
I was sorry to see that your column has yet another article chastising Homeland for what is a voluntary service provided to its Association members. Also, I am surprised to see the statement you attributed to me in the October 5, 2008 article. I never told you that Homeland is “contacting attorneys to protect proprietary information”. What I actually told you was that Homeland’s e-mails were copyrighted, and that I had asked legal counsel for advice on how the enforce this right against those who repost or distribute Homeland e-mail content elsewhere without permission, using Homeland’s name.
Your blog and the Sun claim the same copyrights on the content of information they publish. Your own blog’s Terms of Service state: “You may not republish any portion of the Content on any Internet, Intranet or extranet site or incorporate the content in any database, compilation, archive or cache. You may not distribute any Content to others…and you may not reproduce, sell, publish, transmit, display or otherwise use any portion of the Content”.
Neither Amber Elburn, the Homeland resident who “steadfastly refuses” to join our Association as you wrote, nor Scott Vincent, who runs the Beeswax information exchange internet site giving Ms. Elburn a forum, are elected representatives of the Homeland Association, nor are they authorized to speak for the Association, not are they accountable to the Association Members for their actions. Mr. Vincent does not even live in the Homeland community. Yet both use Homeland’s name without permission. Like your blog and the Sun, Homeland has an interest in what is published using its name, holds an interest in the content it creates, and has an obligation to object to actions which may compromise either.
The simple fact is an Association member may call our office, (and the police, and the Sun, and their homeowners insurance company, and whomever else they chose), to report a crime or suspicious activity in our community. This information, (not “crime statistics” as your articles have labeled it), is distributed by e-mail as a courtesy to those Association members who choose to provide us with their e-mail addresses. Not all dues paying Association members elect to participate in the e-mail alert program, and a very few residents declining to pay the modest dues to join our Association likewise elect not to participate. Amber Elburn is one of those very few. The bald allegations in your articles that Homeland is “hoarding” crime statistics, or is concealing them to “keep property values from falling” as Ms. Elburn speculates, or “is making crime worse for everyone” as Mr. Vincent dramatically opines are regrettable. To the contrary, our Association is voluntarily publishing the crime information it receives and verifies from those who volunteer it to us.
Providing this information is not free. Some of the dues paid by our Association Members employ an Operations Manager whose myriad duties include receiving this information and verifying it, as well as compiling, maintaining and updating an ever-changing list of hundreds of Homeland e-mail addresses. A rather cavalier suggestion in your October 5th article is that our Association can “easily” gather and publish reports, and that Homeland should make its e-mails “widely available”. Who is to pay and be accountable for the person(s) Homeland must hire to do this daily work, on a large scale, and in perpetuity as is apparently being demanded? Certainly we cannot look to Ms. Elburn or Mr. Vincent for such financial help; neither of them even pay dues here.
Constructively working together to address complex community concerns such as crime is a difficult task, and we will always work together in that endeavor, to the best of our abilities. But appropriation of Homeland’s name and information content by unauthorized and unaccountable individuals is not a solution to the crime problem, and the imposition of time-consuming and financially unrealistic reporting requirements on our community Association is not a solution either. In response to the unfavorable light the Sun articles have attempted to cast on our Association, I couldn’t neglect this opportunity to set the record straight, and to tell you how proud we are of our City, our Association and its Members, and the constructive work we do.
Robert Graham Fiore