Reporting the Mount Vernon rapes
I've been invited onto the Ed Norris show tomorrow morning (7:35 a.m.) to talk about the attacks in Mount Vernon and how they were reported (or not reported) to the public. Norris used his show today to complain about the issue, and I've received some posts from concerned residents wondering why information wasn't more quickly distributed.
My gripe is more with the BPD than the media. I understand the relationship between the crimes wasn't clear, but the fact remains that multiple rapes and other incidents were occurring at a much-higher-than-normal rate in the neighborhood -- and the BPD did not bother to alert the residents of this area. This is not your typical Baltimore car break-in or mugging, which most of us are cautious about. In-home rapes -- very scary, especially when you're a woman living alone smack in the middle of them, totally unaware of what is happening around you because it is being swept under the rug, as usual.
The reader is absolutely correct. Baltimore Sun reporters first heard there were attacks on Friday, first from colleagues who live in Mount Vernon and Charles Village, and later from a bulletin sent out by the University of Baltimore. It didn't mention rapes, however.
Over the weekend, we received another e-mail from the Mount Vernon Community Association, but their timeline was off, talking about six rapes in a month. We could not get to the bottom of the discrepencies until Monday.
On Monday, we called the Baltimore Police Department's Public Information Office and were told they knew nothing about the attacks. A reporter then brought back a flier being distributed by the police in the neighborhood, and we called the number the lead detective had written on the sheet. He seemed willing to speak but wanted permission first. We then got a call from the PIO office and were warned not to call detectives, that information would come from their office. But they still had no details.
The chief public affairs official, Sterling Clifford, then called and gave us permission to talk with the lieutenant in charge. The sketches were emailed to the newspaper at 5:45 p.m. A story was published by Justin Fenton on Tuesday.
It shouldn't be this difficult to get basic information about a series of on-going assaults and rapes scaring a neighbhorhood. I undertstand that police don't want to ruin their investigation, but when they decide to put up fliers and send out alerts to community groups, they should also update the larger community as well. The fact that different groups were spreading different versions of what was happening only shows that wrong, confusing information only inflames the public and makes things worse.
I'm looking forward to talking with Ed Norris tomorrow morning.