Knee-Jerk Reporting

On April 18, the Austin American-Statesman reported on various disciplinary actions taken by the Austin Police Dept. against five officers for a variety of infractions, from "skipping work, to improperly storing seized drugs." Titling its article "5 Police Officers Back on the Job After Suspensions," the paper referred to disciplinary memos regarding the officers' suspension, written by Chief Stan Knee in February and March, that it had obtained from the Civil Service Commission by way of an open records request. The only problem: The Statesman apparently failed to contact any of the named officers or their attorneys to try and get the other side of the story.

The omission has rankled some of the rank-and-file. Said Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield, "I've seen [the Statesman] go to the greatest lengths to try to talk to the other side when someone has been accused of a crime. And yet they didn't even give these officers the same consideration, and it's just not fair. And, as I'm told, it's not good journalism."

Managing Editor Fred Zipp disagrees with Sheffield's characterization. "We had a news story we wanted to get into the paper," he said. "We thought that the memos spoke for themselves."

Nevertheless, it can be a somewhat perilous road to accept, at face value, the administration's findings. For example, if Chief Knee's memos were to be taken on faith, the city wouldn't be staring in the face of what promises to be a fairly contentious arbitration hearing regarding the indefinite suspension of officer Timothy Enlow, who Knee said was being fired for racial profiling, even though APD didn't even have a written racial profiling policy at the time (see "A Very Fuzzy Profile," Dec. 28, 2001). Nor would the department still be facing the lingering allegations from officers like Stan Farris, who assert that the department shut down a federally supported drug investigation because the investigation's assigned officers kept turning up too many dirty cops (see "Bad Blood," Feb. 16, 2001).

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