Hiding the Truth (12/28/1961)
Chula Vista Star-News, 28 Dec 1961
Hiding the Truth
The news that the Palladium Ballroom in National City has become the scene of teen-age mayhem is bad enough.
But even more serious, we feel, in its long-term implications were the attempts of the National City police department to suppress the news that this rioting was taking place.
Two riots erupted in this juvenile joy hall before even a word was breathed to the press and public about it. It was only because City Manager James Bird presented a report on the riots to the City Council that the news leaked out. By this time a third gang battle had taken place - and seven people ended up in the hospital.
By what right does National City Police Chief Walter Cagle Suppress News that is of such significance to the people who pay his salary and that of his department?
What other information has the National City police department been sweeping under the carpet?
We think these are legitimate questions in view of Mr. Cagle's suppression of information in the Palladium case?
BY LAW, public documents are as the name implies - open to the public - and this is generally interpreted as meaning most types of police records too. However, it is a physical impossibility for reporters to search out information on every single police case unless they know what they're looking for, Accordingly, most police departments cooperate with the press - which is the public's representative in such matters - by making available to reporters the entire record of police department activity, without exception.
Now sometimes, of course, premature publicity can seriously damage a police investigation. A criminal who reads he is being hunted, for example, is much more likely to try to make a getaway. Sometimes, also, publishing certain details or clues about a crime can impede a police investigation. Sometimes, it is important to an investigation that nothing be published about a crime at all.
In such cases, it is normal procedure for a police department to ask reporters to cooperate by not printing such information. And we have never known a police reporter who refused such a legitimate request.
But it is one think to ask reporters to withhold information and another to deny them information.
And it is one thing to try to suppress information because its revelation would impede capturing a criminal - and another to suppress information because it would perhaps embarrass people whom the police chief would not like to embarrass ... or perhaps even embarrass the police department by showing that it is not doing its job of preserving public order.
WHY WAS THE NEWS of the Palladium riots suppressed?
Police Chief Cagle told reporters at first, that it was because no arrests were made at the initial two riots - in itself a lame excuse, for a crime is no less a crime is a police department doesn't happen to catch the perpetrator.
But, 10 minutes later, when he was quizzed further by reporters, the police chief apparently forgot what he'd said before and stated that two arrests had been made at the first riot.
This kind of double-talk certainly tends to weaken the public's confidence in its police chief.
IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY, the public cannon act unless its public servants provide it with the information on which it can form judgments.
Already, there is too much suppression of the news from Washington - but at least on that level, much of this (although not all) is necessary for reasons of national security.
But there is no such excuse for withholding information on local matters.
How are the people of a community to measure whether their police department is doing a good job, if the department tries to hide from them what is going on in their town?
How is the public going to make its voice felt in public policy if it is uninformed.
There is probably no better example than the Palladium riots. Since news of this mayhem leaked out (despite the police chief), National City ministers have mobilized to try to do something to close this poor excuse for a recreation place.
But if Police Chief Cagle had had his way, few people would have known such riots were taking place. We doubt if the teenagers at the dance hall would have bragged to their parents about t he kind of a place in which they were amusing themselves. We doubt if the gang warriors would have publicized their discovery of a great arena for wielding tire irons and nail-spiked boards.
We hope now that the Palladium is closed for good.
We hope that the National City police department from no on will start to come clean with the public.
And we hope that Police Chief Cagle can come up with the real answers as to why he suppressed news of the riots. If he doesn't do so voluntarily, we believe it is up to the City Council, his employers, to demand this information from him.
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