March 5, 2013 11:19:34 AM
Monday morning, Dispatch crime reporter Sarah Fowler attempted to reach Columbus Police Department Chief Selvain McQueen to comment on fund-raising efforts for one of his investigators, Kelvin Lee, who has cancer.
McQueen did not return calls and voice messages left for him, so Fowler tried to reach McQueen through Glenda Buckhalter, who handles public relations for the CPD. According to Buckhalter, McQueen said that he would not talk to Fowler, but he would talk to another reporter on The Dispatch staff.
Monday's incident was the latest of McQueen's refusals to talk to Fowler. He has not responded to Fowler's calls for comments on stories involving the CPD since Feb. 4, when Fowler reported that the CPD had sent just one case to the grand jury in January.
Efforts by Dispatch managing editor Slim Smith to reach McQueen and resolve the issue were fruitless.
The Dispatch holds its reporters to a high standard of fairness, thoroughness and accuracy. Errors in reporting are corrected in print. We also provide a forum on our editorial page and on each online story where those who have issues with our reporting can air grievances. We do this because the public interest always benefits when the channels of communication between the newspaper, the public and officials are open.
But accommodation goes only so far. We cannot abdicate our responsibility in holding public institutions accountable for the sake of maintaining cordial relationships with officials, even though we recognize that public officials will not always be pleased with our reporting. Fowler has built a reputation for being an aggressive reporter, a vital quality for anyone who covers so important an issue as crime. Our readers wouldn't have it any other way. For that reason, we make no apologies for Fowler's coverage as we have heard no claim of inaccuracy from McQueen where Fowler's reporting is concerned.
It is also worth noting that the other law enforcement agencies Fowler covers in her role as crime reporter have not refused her requests for interviews, even though the coverage has not always been welcomed or flattering.
With all due respect, it is beyond the scope of the police chief's authority to dictate which reporter covers news involving the CPD. To do so would create a very bad precedent and is just as unreasonable as a newspaper trying to dictate which officers investigate certain crimes.
What is surprising about this situation is that if anyone should appreciate our position on this matter, it should be McQueen.
Just three months ago, the joint narcotics unit between the city and the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department was disbanded after McQueen insisted that he be allowed to determine which of his officers would serve on the unit.
In a letter to Sheriff Mike Arledge, McQueen wrote: "It is my understanding that your office deems it necessary to dictate which officers the Police Department will and will not serve on the multi-jurisdictional drug enforcement task force. It seems to me we have two choices: (A) Terminate the Inter-local Agreement; or (B) Proceed forward with me as the Police Chief deciding which officers from my department are to be assigned."
Arledge responded by choosing "A" and the Metro Narcotics Unit was disbanded.
In an editorial the next day, The Dispatch asserted that McQueen had a reasonable expectation to have a say in which of his officers served on the unit.
So what has changed in three months aside from the shoe being on the other foot?
Now it appears that McQueen has concluded that what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander.
That's regrettable. Even so, we will continue to cover crime in Columbus undeterred. It is unfortunate that McQueen, by his arbitrary decision not to talk to our crime reporter, has chosen to shirk his responsibility as chief to you, the readers and citizens he has sworn to serve.
It is McQueen's decision alone to choose whether he will or will not speak to our crime reporter.
It is our decision alone to determine who the crime reporter will be.
McQueen stands on preference.
We stand on principle.