“I don?t believe the press is the enemy; they?re a tool,” said the West Chester police chief who spoke with journalism students Tuesday afternoon about issues surrounding the borough, students? place in West Chester, and the relationship between the press and the police.Police Chief Scott Bohn, a 23- year law enforcement veteran, said that the most critical issue for law enforcement in the borough is “the continuing occurrence of narcotics.” “The issues and priorities change on a daily basis, [but] that?s always on the forefront,” said Bohn.
Bohn recalled the drug search of West Chester East and Henderson High Schools that occurred last year. Police and dogs had conducted a search for drugs at the request of the schools? principals. Bohn said he “thought it was very proactive for school principals.” Bohn said that when a drugsniffing dog would stop at a locker, the police did not have the right toopen it. He would then call for a school official who was permitted to open it, because the locker is school property.
“The less you find, the better. Usually we look at success as the number of absences of crime,” said Bohn. He also said he would be honest with the public in his findings. “I?d rather make my numbers high and correct than incorrect,” said Bohn. In other words, he would not mislead the public by giving low crime statistics if there was, in fact, a lot of crime.
Bohn said that often he will say something to a reporter, even though the reporter may be asking about something else entirely in order to ensure coverage of particular topics by the media. “I feel very comfortable saying [to a reporter] ?I need to get this piece of information out,” said Bohn. Bohn said that sexual assault is an issue that can go underreported. “More often than not, the press decides whether or not something is newsworthy, and that?s not a good or bad thing,” said Bohn.
Bohn said that police try to establish patterns in crime, and that these patterns should be reported in the news. “Over the last eight months we have almost like a ?serial groper.? We?re trying to establish where the pattern is happening,” said Bohn. Getting a physical description of a suspect into the news is also important Bohn added. “Journalists used to report news. It seems today they seem to make news,” said Bohn. He said that in the basement of the borough hall, any citizen has the right to see the police department?s press releases.
“Under the ?Right to Know Law,? you are permitted to go over and look at citations and police warrants,” said Bohn. The names of juveniles, those individuals under the age of 18, are kept private unless they are tried as an adult. Their names would have to be listed, for example, as “juvenile, 17, Upper Darby, Pa.,” said Bohn.
Bohn commented on violence in the news. “I often wonder, ?is that what people want to see??” said Bohn. “I don?t necessarily think that?s a negative thing.” Bohn discussed the homicide rate in Philadelphia and the possibility of bringing in the National Guard. “Certainly you can?t dispute the fact that they are having more homicides,” said Bohn.
In the borough of West Chester, Bohn said, “we always make a large number of underage drinking arrests.” In order to curb underage drinking, the state legislature tightened the law. Now, if cited for underage drinking, a person can face a 90-day suspension of his or her driver?s license.
Bohn said that prior to the change in the law, when he would stop someone, he or she would often say, “Aren?t you supposed to give me a warning? Aren?t you supposed to give me community service? And then you can cite me.” Bohn said that the borough is densely populated, and patrolling the area for public alcohol violations is “more of an environmental issue.”
“You folks don?t keep the same hours as me,” said Bohn. “Eighty percent of people are just like you [in the borough] and I?m right in the middle of that,” Bohn added. “Good people make bad decisions,” said Bohn. Drinking related violations are considered “Part Two Crimes,” as opposed to more serious crimes such as homicide, which are “Part One Crimes.” “We haven?t had a homicide in West Chester in ten years,” said Bohn. Bohn said that campus arrests for underage drinking have been rising. West Chester borough police and West Chester University police have different jurisdictions. “We can make arrests on campus; they cannot make arrests off campus.
We have an officer that has [the] whole sector,” said Bohn. “We do work with one another, we do ask for assistance, [and] we do work independently,” said Bohn. West Chester borough police may call on West Chester University police when they need to “call in the reserves,” said Bohn.
As for journalists and the police force working together, “I understand and respect that they have a job to do,” Bohn said. “That first amendment right to free speech is sacred… it probably extends to freedom of the press.