Less than two weeks ago, the Fort Bend Star received information that 17 people, including three local residents, had been arrested in connection to a sex sting operation and accused of paying for sex.
The information came from a reliable source (the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office) and contained specific information about each person arrested in the sting.
The Fort Bend Star very easily could have published that information. Many did, such as Fox26 in Houston.
But we didn’t jump on the bandwagon like some of our colleagues, and the reasons why might be worth noting.
Before coming to the Fort Bend Star, I spent five years covering cops and courts at the Galveston County Daily News. Over that time, I learned that details are important when dealing with a subject that could have lasting consequences.
As a general rule of thumb, we at the Star will not name any defendant unless we can track down court records and a bond amount. Simply put, law enforcement officers can sometimes get ahead of themselves.
Once I was out at the scene of a fatal car crash, and a detective told me one of the people involved had been charged with intoxication manslaughter, and gave me the man’s name and date of birth.
I have no doubt the detective was being truthful when he gave me the information, and he no doubt intended to arrest the man and have him charged. But many times, much can happen between the start of an investigation and charges being filed.
In the case of the crash, that man was never charged. Because I took the time to double-check the investigator’s information, the newspaper avoided liability, the detective was thankful not to have given out faulty information to the public and life moves on.
Such was also the case with the recent news release. As of late afternoon June 25, no charges had yet been filed against the three Fort Bend County residents arrested as part of the sex sting operation. They might still be coming, and if they do, we will write about them.
But why not hold off?
Reporting on crime is more art than science, but it seems to me that caution and a desire to prosecute and fully vet each piece of information is critical.
Take the initial news release that officials with the Minneapolis Police Department sent out after the death of George Floyd as the perfect example.
“Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car,” according to the release. “He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
If reporters had stuck to the news release, how great a disservice would that have been?
This is not to say that we are at all reticent to write about crime. In fact, within the very pages of this edition, you will find a story about a Missouri City police officer charged with theft.
Our promise to you is that we will always strive to be advocates for the public’s right to know, and we will work tirelessly to bring you the most accurate crime reporting about the issues of compelling public interest.