Media reports on individual crimes often ignore the bigger picture of what crime says about who we are as a society, what we value, and what we are becoming. The Poynter Institute reported on sessions organized by Criminal Justice Journalists last week at the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in Miami that emphasized the importance of digging deeper: of asking the right questions about crime, the government agencies we pay to investigate crime, and those we expect to deal with criminals. Valerie Kalfrin of The Tampa Tribune noted that the FBI and your local police agency may classify the same criminal act in very different ways.
Jails and prisons get the most ink when something goes wrong, but the real story of corrections is an intensely human story that has tangible societal ramifications, says Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman. Adam Gelb, former crime reporter now directing the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project suggests reporters break down the fact that 1 in 100 Americans are behind bars down to the local level. What is the comparable count in your state? We all know that crimes aren’t solved in 45 minutes, like on TV. Paul Wormeli of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, says reporters could do a better job of showing exactly why. The fact is criminal history records are frequently incomplete. The Combined DNA Information System that stores DNA records on offenders nationally has a backlog of 500,000 cases. Information sharing between police agencies and states about criminal activity is spotty and incomplete. As Joe Mahr and Jaimi Dowdell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed in their recent story “Free to Flee,” those breakdowns in information reporting and sharing can help criminals remain under the radar for decades.