I read the news of Bob Kennedy’s passing with some sadness. Kennedy served two terms as Jackson County sheriff from 1995 to 2000, capping more than 30 years with the sheriff’s office.
I joined the Mail Tribune as a reporter in 1990, and one of my tasks in the first few years here was to do the morning “cop rounds.” The routine involved visiting the sheriff’s office, then in the basement of the jail, to check the jail log to see who had been incarcerated the day before and look over copies of incident reports filed by deputies. These included injury accidents, felony arrests and other items that went into our daily emergency services listings and might also warrant separate news stories. The reports were kept on a clipboard on the front counter.
The clerks behind the counter were friendly, and helpful in their way, but their respect for public records laws was sometimes, shall we say, somewhat lacking. From time to time they would take it upon themselves to black out lines on incident reports that were matters of public record.
For example, under Oregon law the names of juveniles arrested for crimes are public. The Mail Tribune’s policy is generally not to publish the names of juveniles charged with crimes unless they are Measure 11 crimes that would lead to the juvenile being tried as an adult. But the names are still public record.
I can recall a few times when information such as that was blacked out on the counter copy. I would stroll down the hall to Kennedy’s office — he was Capt. Bob Kennedy then, second in command under Sheriff C.W. Smith. I would poke my head in the door and explain what I needed, and Bob would sigh and go get the information for me.
He knew the law, and he understood the importance of keeping the public fully informed of the workings of the justice system.
As his longtime colleague and later Undersheriff Ed Mayer noted in our news story Saturday, Bob also understood the need to communicate with the people he served, employing “community-oriented policing” and “problem-oriented policing” before they became the nationwide standards they are today, reaching out to underserved communities and implementing bike patrols in the White City area.
Cops and news reporters traditionally have an uneasy relationship, because the natural tendency of law enforcement is to keep information to themselves and reporters’ instinct is to reveal as much as possible. Establishing trust is important, and it helps when police officials understand why informing members of the public is generally preferable to keeping them in the dark.
I worked with many cops in my 35-year career. Bob Kennedy was one of the best.
Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.