A relationship has been severed, and I don’t know how to mend it. Yet while it would appear that the ties that previously bound us have been broken, I still feel like we have something special. I don’t know … call me a hopeless romantic.
Of course I’m talking about the close working relationship the San Benito News once shared with the officers of the San Benito Police Department. And I refuse to believe it’s over.
As many of you know, I’ve long praised the efforts of our small town police department – a department that, yes, has been plagued by scandal recently but does not (or shall I say should not?) define the very nature of its goal and the fact that its personnel, from the hardworking employees to its rank and file officers all the way up to the chief, continue to do all they can to protect the public. I’d like to say no matter what the cost, but a financial crunch suffered by the City of San Benito says otherwise.
Still, it would seem that these very scandals have put a strain on the department’s ties with the News. Okay, I can understand how the Arnold Garcia fiasco involving an alleged refusal by the then-assistant chief to complete a mandatory drug test and its high-profiled coverage might cause certain officials within the department to swear off the media for a while. I also get how the coverage of Garcia’s alleged (I get so tired of using that word, but it’s necessary) transportation of beer – using an unmarked unit no less – along with his lieutenant brother from a local convenience store to another city–owned facility would create even more tension. My God, that was a long sentence. I’m not even sure it was complete. Bah. You get the picture.
Out of fear that I’ll stake a claim to the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest sentence ever written, I won’t even touch the Guadalupe Andrade issue. Just take my word that there’s been plenty of reason why department heads would rather stay clear of us.
However, I remember a time when I was just a pup (still am in some ways) and was warned that no police officer would want to talk to me after God knows how many so-called “negative articles” had been written about them in a number of publications. Despite the circumstances, I was able to build a rapport with about a dozen of the hardest working cops you’ll find in the Valley. And all it took was a handshake and a promise that I’ll never misquote them, and of course the inclination to oblige such a promise. Then I started to realize that these were not just great police officers but human beings as well. I don’t know anyone more likeable at the PD than Lieutenant Martin Morales, there’s a running joke that officer Guadalupe Ayala almost always manages to find his way in the paper (I think I started that one), and Irene in records has my respect for maintaining order of precious documentation with little resources and even less manpower to boot. Then there’s the jokers like David Ortega and Lt. Zeke Torres, the quiet but assertive Toby Benavides, the hot shot Detective Mike Cortez, and the dedicated Carlos Romero, Manuel Cisneros and Arturo Flores. I could go on and on about these guys, people who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for over six years. And none of them speak to us (on the record that is) very much anymore out fear of reprimand, this is with the exception of Lt. Morales because his being a public information officer kind of makes talking to the media a necessity.
I get it. These are bad times, and the last thing anyone wants is for the media to go snooping around an already-wounded department. But hey, I’m not asking to give me the keys to a safe full of secrets … although it’d be nice.
Believe me when I say that all of us in this community, in the Valley, in this state and everywhere else have our own burdens to bear and our fair share of skeletons in the closet. It’s about how you handle those situations when they arise, though, that truly measures your worth. If you’ve got nothing to hide then why not allow a detective to talk about a certain case? As long as the law and department policy are followed on what can and cannot be disclosed, then why not give the okay to a patrolman to give us the facts on a major accident or an assault? And for God’s sake, answer our calls! We’re trying to reestablish connection here, and it won’t work if you keep giving us the silent treatment.
After all, the relationship between a community newspaper and the local police department is not one that should be taken lightly. Through working together, the public can be informed of potentially dangerous situations or locations. Through working together, the department can reach the masses via the airwaves, broadcast television and in newsprint when asking the public to help locate a wanted person, or perhaps a missing child. The silent treatment can only hurt, not help.