City Leaders Say Times Free Press Violated Agreement On Crime-Fighting "Call-In"; Put Those Involved At Risk By Printing Names

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mayor Andy Berke and other city officials said Saturday that the Chattanooga Times Free Press - after being given exclusive access - violated an agreement over coverage of the first crime-fighting "Call-In."

The officials said when the newspaper printed the names of some of those who took part that it would put the participants and police officers at risk.

The statement says, "Over the past year, we have made improving public safety our number one priority.  This week, our community took the next step in making our streets safer by holding our first “call-in,” an intervention with 13 members with connection to the groups causing the most violence in Chattanooga. City Hall, community members, law enforcement, families who had lost loved ones, and people who had turned their lives around, delivered the following message: 

“'We want you safe, alive, and out of prison. We are determined to keep our entire city free from violence, and that includes you.'

"In preparation for the call-in, we wanted to keep the public informed. To do so, we offered increased access to a reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (TFP), including otherwise closed meetings. In return, we asked the TFP to steer clear of the call-in itself, as reports of group members and individual citizens meeting with law enforcement can lead to threats, intimidation and reprisal. We always knew reporters had a job to do; we only pushed for confidentiality of identity, not of process. Professor David Kennedy, founder of the principles that make up the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative, advised us this is standard national practice and this request has been consistently honored in cities around the country.

"Unfortunately, Thursday night two reporters from the TFP showed up in the parking lot to talk to participants as they left the call-in. This morning, they printed the names of several individuals involved, and they have told us they will seek out more specifics to print.

"This is wrong and does nothing to serve the public. We have been -- and continue to be -- transparent about this process, the policies behind it, and the outcomes it brings. Printing the names of those who attend the call-in, particularly those ordered to participate as a condition of their status as probationers and parolees, adds nothing to the public discourse; it simply puts the group members, individual citizens, and law enforcement officers in danger.

"There’s an old saying: Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Well, this is one worth fighting about. We said at the call-in that we wanted to keep everyone there safe, and we meant it. The actions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press do the opposite. The protection of the first amendment does not absolve our local newspaper from being constructive members of our community. We will continue to provide you, the public, as much information as possible while shielding the identity of those who can be harmed -- because this is what it takes to keep our police officers, call-in participants, and all our citizens safe."

Mayor Andy Berke - City of Chattanooga

Councilman Moses Freeman - Chair, Public Safety Committee

Chief Stan Maffett - Chattanooga Police Department

Richard K. Bennett -  Founder and Director, A Better Tomorrow, Inc

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