Information can help to deflate fear

During last week’s city hall news conference, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin made a plea for calm. He made a pitch for everybody to not let fear rule.

The mayor, however, missed a terrific opportunity to provide city residents, business owners and frequent visitors with reasons for hope that lawlessness will not become the norm here. Franklin missed an opportunity to address how he would ensure that the citizenry would be kept abreast of situations that put the community’s safety in jeopardy.

Some citizens noticed that there was an unusual presence of Ohio State Highway Patrol cars on Warren Streets following the murder of Richard Rollison IV. The mayor missed an opportunity to tell the citizens that the city had sought additional support from the State Patrol over several days, and some additional presence by Trumbull County sheriff’s deputies.

Even more troubling, however, is how little information was forthcoming from the Warren City Police Department in the hours after Rollison’s murder in the parking lot at a West Market Street gas station.

Early Saturday, police and city officials knew a dangerous murder suspect was on the lam, yet they did nothing to alert the community. They knew his name, what he looked like, knew what vehicle he might be driving, yet decided against providing those descriptions to the masses.

Often public awareness leads to a quicker capture. There should have been no concern about tipping off the suspect; he knew he was a wanted man.

Later Saturday, an arrest warrant was issued for murder suspect Tashawn Walker. Despite attempts by the media, no city police or other officials were available to provide that information, or even the initial police report, until Monday. Thus, rumors and false information abounded.

With no official word on the situation from Warren police Saturday, it’s no wonder the community was confused and concerned when the same day a throng of police descended upon Jackson Street rushing door-to-door. On Sunday, many residents there expressed disillusionment that no information was available in the news and there was fear and speculation over what had happened.

Several times in the last year, this newspaper has either met with or communicated by telephone with Mayor Franklin and Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa to express our concern that the public’s safety was being jeopardized by the lack of timely information from the police department regarding ongoing criminal activity. Even when police have restored order following a crime, failing to communicate leaves the citizenry, and potential visitors to the city, on edge.

The newspaper’s position is relatively simple. When criminal activity takes place on Friday or Saturday, releasing information on Monday, or sometimes Tuesday after a holiday, is not sufficiently informing the public of situations that could be dangerous.

Last weekend’s lack of information is evidence that Franklin and Cantalamessa are not taking this issue seriously.

Good police work led to a swift capture of the suspect. But the lack of factual information from the city through the mass media to the community left people with the misinformation circulating on social media and the subsequent hysteria that Franklin referenced in the news conference.

Franklin, early in his news conference Wednesday said, “Sensationalism may sell newspapers, but irresponsible reporting may cause more harm than good.” Perhaps Franklin is referring to police dash cam footage from the murder scene.

Far from sensational, the dramatic scene helps the community feel the Rollison family’s pain. It makes it harder for anybody to ignore that we senselessly lost something precious. It makes it easier for everybody to recognize Richard Rollison IV as more than a statistic. It compels all to play a part in helping the community, whether that be by adding one more flower to his grave, or taking decisive action to reduce violence in Warren.

Franklin’s news conference statement that he will not let fear rule provided a glimmer of hope that his administration might head in the right direction. But two days later, in cooperation with Warren police, city school superintendent Michael Notar canceled Warren G. Harding High School’s final football game. He cited heightened tension still percolating a week after the Rollison murder.

In other words, fear ruled the day.

Instead of beefing up security as a show force at Mollenkopf Stadium and delivering a message that life would return to normal, the city’s leaders relinquished control to those who run the streets.

For a school district trying to turn the tide of open enrollment losses, this is devastating. For a city trying to attract businesses and reverse the decline in population and housing value, this is crushing. The city’s leaders accepted a humiliating defeat at the hands of thugs.

Again, the city was slow to provide details about the decision leaving those who reside, visit or do business near Harding wondering just how much danger they’re in. And just how far-reaching was the danger Friday night throughout the city?

The city needs to see and hear that its leaders understand the value of keeping the citizens aware of dangerous criminal activity. This should be viewed as a responsibility to be taken seriously. Now it seems only to be viewed as an inconvenience.