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Less transparency on crime in Alachua County as arrest reports are no longer available on weekends

OPINION

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Alachua Chronicle is one of only two or three media outlets in Alachua County that provide daily reporting on crime, and our reports are the most detailed by far, giving information from the probable cause narrative in the arrest report, the criminal history of the suspect, and bail amounts when available. We do this seven days a week.

However, we have learned that arrest reports will no longer be available on weekends.

We’ve only been covering arrests for a little over two years, but during that time, the process has been the same: Alachua County Jail staff send out a booking log every morning to a long list of media outlets, and outlets that want arrest reports send back a list of names. Those reports have generally been provided within a couple of hours, which is usually 3-4 hours before they start appearing on the court website.

However, that suddenly stopped on Thursday, when the arrest reports arrived at 2:30 p.m. (about the time they start showing up on the court website), sent by a supervisor, with each file marked “APPROVED.” When we asked about the delay, we were told that there was a new process, with a supervisor having to review each report before it is sent to the media.

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On Friday, the requested arrest reports never arrived.

When we asked about that today, we were told that the supervisors were not in the office yesterday, and they don’t work on weekends, so the Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday reports will all be reviewed and sent out Monday. Since arrest reports are also not posted to the court website on weekends, this greatly diminishes the community’s awareness of crimes happening over the weekend.

On top of the delay, outlets don’t have the resources to write/publish/broadcast three times the number of crime stories on Mondays, so this has the effect of diminishing crime reporting by almost 25%. Stories that would otherwise be covered will not be covered. This week, because reports were also not sent on Friday, four days of arrest reports will be sent on Monday, assuming the supervisors can actually review that many on top of their usual responsibilities.

The first day this happened was also the day that a local basketball coach was arrested for lewd and lascivious battery on a minor, and we can certainly understand the desire to double-check the redactions in such a report to ensure that no personal information about the victims was transmitted, but it seems unnecessary to put arrest reports for DUIs, trespasses, driving without a valid license, and drug possession through this approval process.

It’s also notable that two sons of Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., were arrested in the past 10 days (Clovis Watson IV here and Cortlan Watson here), but both arrest reports were promptly provided to the media upon request, and the only redaction was in Cortlan’s home address (not uncommon for relatives of law enforcement officers).

We call on Sheriff Watson to once again provide arrest reports to the media every morning, as has been done for years. Media outlets follow ethical standards in posting information about victims, and if the jail staff accidentally neglect to redact some information, ethical news outlets do not publish it.

Knowing that the jail is struggling with staff shortages, it also seems counterproductive to add extra work to the staff when there seems to be little, if any, benefit from that extra work.

In a time when law enforcement agencies are increasingly under attack from political forces, it is important for the community to know what our law enforcement officers do on a daily basis. Crime stories that give the “who, what, when, where, and why” of interactions between law enforcement and suspects inform all of us about what happens in Alachua County every day and can guide policy-makers to implement changes that can make our community safer. They can also provide a starting point for investigations into policing policies. Without these stories, we would be ignorant about incidents happening around us, and perhaps that is what our local leadership wants.

Other than redactions to protect victims, arrest reports are public records, and the only effect of delaying their release is to make information about crime in our community less transparent and less timely. And that does not benefit anyone except the criminals and politicians.

    • “In a time when law enforcement agencies are increasingly under attack from political forces”…or the law enforcement agencies ARE the political forces proudly experimenting and boiling frog and following orders

  • Thank you for this explanation. I will be surprised if the Sheriff does anything to correct this.

  • Hope that policy gets reversed as it is a violation of the Sunshine laws with the explanation given. Supervisor availability is not a viable excuse to hold data back. Get it done over there for the safety and wellbeing of the people Sheriff. Please don’t start playing games with full transparency requests for the public good.

  • Of course there are “supervisors” on duty on the weekend. Someone has to be in charge. Perhaps the sheriff does not want it released that the majority of persons arrested are young black men.

    • I think your on to something….the trend has been for the liberal news media to stop publishing mug shot photos of the perps. I suspect this is part of their plan to keep the public in the ‘dark’ about how disproportionate the amount of violent crime is being committed by AA and illegals.

  • He was term-limited and could no longer run for the State House after serving four terms, and he decided to run for sheriff. He’s a politician first and foremost. Shame on all you woke morons who didn’t vote for Sheriff Darnell “cuz George Floyd.”

    • What do you say “cuz”? I’m confused if you don’t know proper english or just showing ignorance. What happened to Floyd was horrible and sometimes reform needs to take place because of people like you that thinks it’s ok

    • Um…part of the voting issue was his campaign run by Bryan Eastman (now running for city commission) and the sinister plan the democrats hatched with a write-in candidate that subsequently dropped out so that no Republicans could vote for sheriff.

  • Jennifer we also need to know if the county jail has been at capacity, and why repeat offenders keep getting out so fast?

    • They need to be expanding the jail if they are near capacity. They can house inmates at
      the army vehicle repair center/refugee camp they’re building across from the jail at the old fairgrounds once that’s completed.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful piece on why it is important for the public to have access to this information. Understanding, however, that the reports you access are a one sided, partial presentation of information, it would be good reporting, and important for the community to understand what happens when cases go to trial and have a full hearing. Not all cases have a full hearing and go to trial; also, many people find their only avenue to release is to plead to the charge because they cannot meet the monetary bond, regardless of culpability. What I miss in this fast news era is that we rarely, if ever, see reporting on those cases that do go to trial and result in acquittal. That, would also serve the public interest.

    • We need to send the Alachua Chronicle more subscription money so they can hire more reporters. I can’t imagine how Jennifer gets everything done that she’s already doing!

    • It also seems to be important to the community to get a handle on the number of cases where someone with an arrest record as long as my arm and who is guilty as sin doesn’t get a full hearing because they (or their family) intimidate the witnesses.

  • Interested citizens need to contact the sheriff and emphasize to him the importance for him to reverse this decision.

  • I agree with so many of the comments, but the reality is that our “criminal” justice system is now at its peak. Their is no “Victim” justice system!

  • 012016MM00054A
    .
    Cortlan Jaleal Watson age 21
    .
    Arrest Warrant: Trespass After Warning
    .
    Incident:: “On February 6, 2016 at 0332 hours, the defendant as inside 1007 W University Ave (Kava Lounge) and was asked several times to leave the premises by the witness/owner but the defendant refused to do so. I observed the defendant in front the business upon my arrival.
    .
    The defendant stated that he was not leaving the business and that LEO can do whatever they want to do because his dad is District 20 Senator Watson and he would take care of us for arresting him.” swore the GPD officer.
    .
    Released no bail.
    SA Cervone dropped the charges.
    Cortlan has 20 traffic infractions in the past 10 years.
    Apples don’t fall far from the tree.

  • GREAT WAY FOR THE MEDIA TO REPORT THE LOW CRIME RATES IN TOWNS AND CITYS. NICE WORK JENNIFER EXPOSING THE CORRUPTION.

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