Police predicament

This week’s cover story didn’t exactly turn out the way we had planned.

Don’t get me wrong; Kelley Lang did a great job with the article, talking to various local officials to piece together what a woman goes through after she reports a rape. We felt this was an important story to do, as rape is one of the most awful of all crimes—and it’s one of the least talked about. Because of privacy policies in place to protect the identity of the victims, police departments rarely send out press releases about sexual assaults. This means that the attacks go unreported by the media unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as if a serial rapist is on the loose, if a suspect is a celebrity or if the victim goes to the press herself, for some reason.

We had planned for Kelley herself to be walked through the steps that a rape victim would go through. While she could, in no way, know what was going through a rape victim’s head, she hoped to relay a first-person account of the procedures that occur after an assault is reported. But when we called the police for help with the story, we hit a brick wall.

First, Kelley went to the Reno Police Department and even had an appointment set up with an officer to take her through the process. But upper management at the RPD cancelled the appointment. Conversations with Jim Weston and Jim Johns, deputy chiefs with the RPD, revealed that the police did not have faith in us to do a fair job with the story. They cited a cover story, “Policing the Police,” which ran May 11, as a story that the department felt was handled inappropriately by the RN&R.

Weston suggested I set up a meeting with Chief Jerry Hoover to talk about these problems. But when I tried to set up a meeting, Hoover declined, saying that he did not feel the need to meet with me. Through his assistant, Hoover said the RN&R would have access to all information that other media sources would, although this pledge came too late for it to be tested for this week’s cover story.

Two pieces of pertinent information: First, the Reno police never contacted me to express any problems with the “Policing the Police” story, and you would expect them to contact the newspaper’s editor if there were any problems. Second, their refusal to talk to us came after a Nov. 9 story by contributing editor D. Brian Burghart, “Lease of our Worries,” about a leasing policy that the city of Reno had, mostly for police vehicles, that raised some eyebrows—a policy that was changed after the story ran.

Kelley also tried to go through the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, but they expressed similar misgivings about the RN&R—apparently after conversing with Reno police. (However, a WCSO official did return a phone call after the story’s deadline.) They also expressed worries about the aftermath of the Jennifer W. incident, in which a woman sued the Sparks Police Department, alleging that the police treated her poorly and refused to believe her when she reported a rape. When her rapists struck again and were arrested, they ultimately confessed to roles in her attack. As you may recall, the case ended up making national headlines, including a story on Dateline: NBC.

As Kelley’s story deadline, already delayed for more than a month, came closer, only one local law enforcement agency returned our calls in time: ironically, the Sparks Police Department.

I am assuming that all is fine and good with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department and the Reno Police Department, following Hoover’s assurance to me that we’d be treated the same as all other media sources. But I am still not sure why they wouldn’t work with us in the first place, and I know this week’s cover story would have greatly benefited from their assistance.