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In a time when there is a great deal of mistrust encompassing media and government, there is something that I stumbled upon that could make things better, or at least more transparent. To give even more hope, this solution is already there legally and is public information. This should be an easy fix, correct? Not so fast.
It’s a common lightning rod on social media to post, comment on, like, share or partake in stories about crimes within our communities; especially violent ones. Here’s how the story goes:
John Smith broke into a home on XYZ Avenue. John Smith shot and killed the homeowner. John was arrested at ABC Avenue. John Smith is under a $50,000 bond. The story sounds complete, yeah? It’s not.
Instantly, people are irate! Why is the bond so low? We ask dozens of questions. In fact, we ask everything but the most important one. If we are so angered by the low bond amount, why aren’t we trying to find out which judge/magistrate handed out the bond? Shouldn’t this be regular information in crime-related stories since it’s one of the things we are most concerned about?
If police officers are asked to wear body cameras, shouldn’t elected and appointed judicial officials do the same? Wouldn’t this let us make more informed decisions on who we want to be seated and who we support or do not? So, why aren’t the news outlets sharing the names of these decision-makers? There’s more than one reason.
I needed to know, so I picked up the phone and grabbed the name of a violent offender in Wilson County. I called the courthouse. They told me that they were not sure if they could release that information despite it being public record. They recommended calling the clerk of court’s office. I called the clerk of court and once again, I was told that they would not release the name of the magistrate on that or any case. She recommended calling the jailer and even provided the number. The jailer said that what I was asking for was not something that she was comfortable releasing.
So my question is this: Who among our local decision-makers will be the first to make this easily accessed public information available? It shouldn’t be this hard to know how our dollars are being spent or who is doing a good job in handling bond decisions.
Steven E. Davis