Every once in a while, a story in The News Journal about someone being arrested will draw outrage from family and friends, and even other members of the community, along with complaints that we have slandered or libeled the individual.
Though there is a running joke in the newsroom when these accusations arise that we randomly decided that we were going to make up a story about that individual, just to get them and make their lives miserable, I can assure you that it is not true.
We have just been accused of it so many times that we have to laugh about it.
I have written crime stories about individuals I know.
If I were to be arrested, I’m 99.9 percent sure that my mugshot would be online and in the paper with a headline along the lines of, “News Journal employee arrested.”
So, what is the process for determining which individuals accused of criminal activity are worthy of going online or into print?
Most of the local law enforcement agencies have an officer assigned as the public affairs officer. This officer will send out press releases detailing arrests, or crimes they are investigating and need the public’s assistance in solving.
Some do it more than others. Some use social media to get the word out, and, like the general public, we watch those sites.
Most of the local jails, detention centers and correctional centers across Kentucky have their inmates posted online on Jail Tracker.
It is a site open to the public, so anyone can go there and see who has been arrested.
One of the first things we do each morning is check Whitley, Laurel and Knox County on Jail Tracker to see who has been incarcerated since the last time we checked.
Whitley and Laurel county’s sites keep record of all inmates, whether they are still incarcerated at the time, or have been released. Knox County only lists the current inmates. However, it is very seldom that someone charged with a serious crime will post bond very quickly.
The Jail Tracker system has recently been updated and now lists arrests by booking date, so it is easy to start at the top and work your way down to where you left off.
Inmates are listed by last, first and middle name, and the booking date.
There are some names that you notice because they are what we term a, “frequent flier.”
It means they have been incarcerated numerous times, so you get used to seeing the name.
Also, when you see a unique name, such as “Elvis”, or “Heaven,” you notice that, or you see a name of a local person of note, such as an attorney, public official, or family member.
There is a link by each name to click to see the mugshot and additional information.
When you click the link, you will see the charge(s), case number, age, city in which the person lives, arresting agency and arresting officer.
In the case of the Knox County Detention Center, it will also provide you with the inmate classification, which is important because Knox County also houses McCreary County’s inmates.
In the case of the Laurel County Correctional Center, it houses federal inmates.
So, when scrolling through the inmates, it is a matter of looking at the charges. Is it any of the big things such as murder, rape, assault, robbery, or burglary? Have they fled from the police?
I have two other things that I personally look for. If the charge is DUI, does it indicate it is the individual’s fourth or greater. Under Kentucky law, DUI fourth within a 10-year period is a felony. If you are charged with that, you have reached the point where a story is warranted.
Also, have you gotten naked in public AKA, “indecent exposure?” There is usually a story behind an indecent exposure, whether it is running naked with a high school track team, going skinny dipping in the pool of someone you don’t know, urinating on Main Street, or exposing yourself to a police officer.
We look at all of Whitley County, Corbin and Gray in Knox County, and Keavy and Lily in Laurel County.
If an inmate lives in one of those places, or the incident takes place in one of them, it may end up in the paper.
Once we have the list of inmates, we work to get the arrest citations and/or warrants from the clerk’s offices in Whitley, Knox or Laurel County.
If we still have questions after reading the arrest citation or warrant, we call the arresting agency to get more details.
Again, most of the agencies have a PAO.
Whitley County Sheriff Todd Shelly and Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird have always been accessible and accommodating to The News Journal. We can talk to either of them and they either have the answers, will get with the arresting officer and get back with us, or have the arresting officer call us.
The story is written. In some instances, such as the individual recently arrested on charges of leading Kentucky State Police on a vehicle pursuit that reached speeds of 140 mph, we get a call or e-mail from the individual’s attorney wanting to provide a statement.
We welcome that, and, as seen in the story on that incident that ran in the Oct. 7 edition, we will make it a prominent part of the story.
We are not trying to ruin anyone’s life, hurt their children, or any of a number of other things we frequently get accused of when printing crime stories.
Our job is to inform the public of things happening in the community, both good and bad. We are frequently asked, “Why don’t you print some good news?”
The simple answer is that we are in the business of selling newspapers, and it has been shown again and again, that we sell more newspapers when such stories are featured.
As Michael Corleone said in the classic movie, “The Godfather,” “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”