March 24, 2013
So, was Spring Break in Galveston a pleasant time for all those out-of-towners, or was it tragic, uncomforatable, unpleasant, disasterous, costly, or a never-come-back-experience? We will probably never know because not a single agency of the city government has, nor are they likely, to say a word about anything about Spring Break except maybe sales tax collections were up or down.
And how about folks who live in Galveston. Do they have any idea what sort of things happened over Spring Break weekend? They saw thousand more people on the streets, cars on the streets, they heard more sirens going somewhere, and stood in longer lines for most everything. But do they know what their police officers, firefighters and EMS personell did those days? Was there crime in their neighborhoods? Were any of their friends, neighbors or relatives victims of crime? If they were, they are more likely to find out about it through word-of-month than through any media source.
In Corpus Christi, Port Aransas and South Padre Island, police and city officials issued statements to the media regarding their Spring Break experiences, either declaring them better than previous years or not as good as previous years, in terms of number of visitors, hotel occupancy, deaths by drowing, traffic fatalities, traffic citations issued, number of ambulance calls, fire calls, arrests, and all those things Spring Break visitors and local residents expect to read after big events.
But not in Galveston. Not a peep from anyone and actually a direct denial of a requent from The Police News to the Galveston Police Department for a general statement on police activity which would have included reports on arrests, incidents, traffic accidents, citations and other police actions. An email from the departments Public No-Information Officer told us to get it ourselves from the Police-To-Citizen website which has only a small part of the information required for an informative report.
It has become more and more evident over recent months the Galveston city administration's modus operandi is let the public know as little about what is going on in city government as possible. This philosophy appears to have been adopted by the police administration also and is being explained in different ways. Galveston's main news source, the Galveston County Daily News, has been hammering the city administration editorially for weeks for it's illegal closed door meetings and other shenanigans which keep the public from knowing what's really going on.
One explanation we have heard from citizens for "keeing crime quite" has been it is bad for tourism. Tourist won't come to Galveston if they know it is likely they will experience crime in one way or another. Will their cars be burglarized in a hotel parking lot? Many are, but you are not likely to hear about it or read about it. Not in a city where the police chief's family owns a big stretch of beach which thrives on tourist dollars. Will you be assaulted and robbed? It happens, but if it is not uncovered by a reporter, you won't hear about it, because the police department will not announce it to the press for publication, as departments in many other cities do. Police departments in Texas City, Dickinson and Santa Fe, all smaller cities than Galveston in population and number of police officers, issue more press statements to the media regarding crime, than the Galveston Police Department does and those cities are not tourists centers whose populations triple during seasonal events.
When asked why the public in Galveston is not informed about crime and criminal activity, over and over we hear it's because the department is short handed. There are not enough police officers. The Public Information Officer also has other responsibilities besides writing press releases. That may be true, the PIO in Galveston is also in charge of the Records Bureau, the Identification Division and maybe others we may not know about. But being 'In Charge' of those division doesn't mean he or she actually does work in them, it means he/she is responsible for them. Each of them have their own experts who do the work and make them function. We interpret that to mean that public information, informing the public about crime, is less important than supervising records or the fingerprint people and photographers. They know what they're doing.
Short of manpower? I have not known a police department in history who would not say they need more manpower. A highly respected police chief in another city told me once, if a police chief uses that for an excuse, he should be a patrolman whose excuses are not tolerated.
We have heard so much about Community Policing this and Community Policing that, but other than a few neighborhood meetings with 10-15 folks, the police make no exerted effort to inform the public they serve about crime in their neighborhoods. It seems one of the most important missions of any law enforcement agency is to maintain a constant diaglog with the media which enables the police to provide a steady flow of information to it's public on a large scale, rather than just going to cupcake and coffee events then bragging about Community Policing.
Except when there is a murder or other disaster on Galveston Island which attracks Houston and area TV cameras, one is not likely to see a Public Information Officer or Police Chief at a polic scene. Recently when two vehicles collided on the far west end of Galveston Island, initial reports were three persons were ejected from the vehicles, they were critically injured, and an air ambulance may be needed. At the scene we found five Galveston police cars, seven Galveston police officers, two Galveston fire trucks, eight Galveston firefighters, three ambulances and an ambulance supervisor, but no Public Information Officer was there and no Police Chief was there. No one else was authorized to speak with the media about what had happened. That was the job of the Public Information Officer or The Police Chief, neither of whom where there. The PIO was, in fact, in touch with one of those officers at the scene who couldn't talk to the media, but he couldn't tell us anything we couldn't see for ourselves at the scene.
But when a baby kidnapped in Houston was found in a Galveston motel room unharmed, and the Houston TV stations were beating a path to Galveston to video the drama of the discovery, both the Police Chief and the PIO were waiting when they pulled up to the scene. The baby was already in safe hands, the kidnapper had been captured and Houston Police were on their way to Galveston to pick up the bad guy. No lives were in danger, no criminals were loose. But! There was a photo op. If there had been no media at that scene, we may never had heard about it.
So, if you actually think Galveston is an island paradise, where life is peaceful and tranquil, you can leave your front door unlocked when you run to the store, or leave the key in your car to run into a convenience store, or lean you bicycle against a tree while you play in a park, think again.
Someone will burglarize your home whether you leave the front door unlocked or not, they will steal your car even without the key in the ignition, that bicycle will disappear before you can bat your eyes, and you should find a place in a hotel parking lot nearest the front entrance where there is foot traffic and bright lights.
But you'll never read about this in any newspaper or see it on TV because these cases are are undramatic and the tourist addicts and police don't want you to know about it.
That's the way I see you.
You may have your say below.
Reports like these are not likely to be seen about Galveston