Don’t suppress facts

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

We have heard the complaint come up again, for the umpteenth time, about publicity surrounding crime in Storm Lake spreading far and wide. We have heard that some people are chirping about the police tamping down these press releases. So we will trot out the argument again: Police are required by the Iowa Public Records Law (Chapter 22, Iowa Code) to make available the immediate facts and circumstances surrounding any incident.

If the police make it available to KAYL Radio, they also must release it to KTIV in Sioux City if KTIV asks. And it does ask. If the police refuse to send it to KTIV, the TV station will get the story via an Associated Press feed by KAYL. And that KTIV reporter will be mad at Storm Lake for the rest of his or her TV career. That won’t help. This has been explained many times over the years.

It also has been explained that the police department prepares press releases — as does the Buena Vista County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa State Patrol and nearly every police department worth its salt — about crimes, arrests and motor vehicle accidents. The police would rather send out complete information than have us rummaging through their records every day and making pests of ourselves. It’s easier for both of us and more accurate and complete.

That press release is a public record. If KCAU in Sioux City asks for all press releases from the SLPD, it must provide them. This is the law. This is not a choice that the police chief makes. A good police chief can use more carefully crafted press releases to catch criminals, which ours does and especially with TV stations. Certainly, we want the police to issue alerts through all media when there is an issue of public safety.

Every crime and every arrest is an issue of public safety and personal freedom. We deserve to know about all of it. So does any citizen who asks. The public wants to know more and more about police and public interactions, obviously. Eventually, the SLPD will be issuing videos from body cameras worn by officers. The trend is toward more information and transparency in law enforcement, not less, for their own protection and the public’s. We want to know who is in jail — in Russia you never know where they went. We want to know who got popped for OWI because we might not want them driving a school bus or a cop car. And we want to know where crime is committed, by whom and when. All of us want to know that. If we didn’t there would be no TV news.

We would recommend that anyone who wants to gag the police should study Chapter 22, and then put a towel in their own mouth. We also would encourage them to read the glowing coverage of the Storm Lake Police Department in The New York Times or the Katie Couric documentary on National Geographic. And keep the towel in there.

Can’t get the job done

If you could put partisan politics out of mind momentarily, anyone would wonder why the US House of Representatives cannot pass a five-year farm bill on time. It was like this five years ago, too. They can’t get the job done because they are tying it to other legislation that has nothing to do with corn loan marketing rates, such as whether young immigrants should get a pass to live here. If you viewed it objectively, you would say that this is silly and gets in the way of doing the nation’s business.

Yet Steve King and every other Iowa congressman is responsible for this failure. The Republicans who control the House easily have enough votes to pass a farm bill that includes crop insurance, conservation funding and an emergency safety net for farmers. Everybody, nearly, believes in that except for people on the fringes. And that is where Steve King and his cohorts reside, on the fringe of politics.

They want to deny the poor food stamps if they can’t prove they’re working, despite the fact that they need food stamps because there are few decent opportunities for black folks in Alabama. That is a major hangup in the House farm bill that brought this version down.

The Freedom Caucus, which King claims, wanted to pass a harsh immigration bill and tied it to a farm bill vote. This hurt the effort even more.

Clearly, Speaker Paul Ryan cannot herd frogs into a wheel barrow. He is bailing out without an immigration bill, without a farm bill, without having repealed the Affordable Care Act. What an embarrassment — Ryan is from Wisconsin, after all, the dairy state.

Anyone who is a rational observer can see that the radicals controlling the debate in the House cannot get anything done that helps farmers and rural communities. But they keep voting for these ideologues, anyhow. The farm bill represents our livelihood in many ways in Northwest Iowa. It does not appear that one will pass before the mid-term elections.

What will it take for Iowans to say that this sort of performance is unacceptable?