Opinion: Police reports have a place in campus reporting

by Kate Hayden, digital editor

Many students have incredible memories during their college career being part of a team at Simpson. Some students take part in theater, or sports, or intramurals. I’ve chosen to spend my four years at Simpson Student Media, ending my career as the digital editor in charge of social media and website content. Every staff meeting, every failed or successful assignment and every late night in the Simpsonian lab has been integral to my growth as a journalist and as a person.

As the digital editor, I’m also extremely aware of the tweets, comments and other communication coming in to our editorial board. For the days following our last newspaper, we had more messages and concerns in our inbox then I’ve personally ever seen on our staff. Some of these have been very civil and a great catalyst for discussion among our board; some have not been.

The particularly high response rate comes after our choice to run names and arrests in a regular police blotter as part of our weekly print edition. Unfortunately, many students seem to have a misconception that this is an unusual move for a student newspaper. It’s not. Student newspapers across the country are training future courts and crime reporters by abiding by the same policies as community newspapers and television stations.

 This isn’t even a new policy for The Simpsonian – archived papers have previously reported on student staff members’ incidents with law enforcement. Within my time in the organization, we’ve also reported on cases like Simpson graduates who are named suspects in criminal investigations to at least one case of a Simpson College staff member who had charges brought against them. Our decision to publish police reports do not stem from a desire to be challenging, provocative, or ‘edgy’, but to follow through the journalism values we strive to uphold.

Our editorial board is keenly aware to the sensitivity surrounding campus member’s interactions with the police. We chose to announce our new policy online before printing the police record after we noticed on social media an increase of concern surrounding recent interactions with the Indianola Police Department. Part of investigating police interactions with students means publishing public records into the collective campus conversation. This is a debate raging nationally as citizens and media are calling on police in Ferguson, Missouri to New York City to explain questionable activity that sometimes prove deadly results.

We are not here to embarrass anyone. We are not publishing material that isn’t already being published in the Indianola Record Herald and Tribune. We are not publishing material that people don’t already have access to. What we are doing is following a new policy that aims to keep track of these incidents and see if there really is a pattern developing. Are the Indianola police unfairly targeting students on weekends? Is student behavior drastically different from years previous? We don’t know. But we want to be able to share that with you when we find out.

I would ask that involved students who disagree with the content of the police reports consider reaching out to us via an opinion piece or as an interview, where we can compare the police report to what students may view as a drastically different incident. It is their choice. They may choose not to reach out at all, and move on in their lives. We are simply here to open up the dialogue, to stop or slow down rumors perpetuating on social networks, and report the news as accurately as we possibly can.