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Local Media Still Battle for Transparency with Worcester Police Chief Gemme

Thursday, September 10, 2015

 

The war of words between local media outlets and the Worcester Police Department continues to pick up steam with no end in sight.

"While members of the public—including city officials and journalists— are seeking more transparency and porosity between the police and the communities they serve, some police departments are barricading themselves from local journalists and the public for fear of a public opinion backlash.  Yet the only way that trust can be earned or restored is through open communication," said Dr. Julie Frechette, Professor of Media at Worcester State University.

Frechette notes that social media in the Post-Ferguson age has put "trust in the police at an all time low in America because of the recent media coverage of “bad cops” who enact violence on citizens."

Frechette adds, "In light of this, police leaders need to work with news media to reach the public in a way that enables them to communicate effectively in good times, and not just in times of crisis.   It also means that they will need to earn trust from members of the public by being proactive through social media. 

GoLocalWorcester has had issues with communications from the Worcester PD. The only emails or phone calls this reporter has had returned in the past year have been in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

A recently fulfilled FOIA request to the WPD asked for documentation of public records requests in which the parties requesting the information had to pay a fee to the City.

GoLocalWorcester has been asked to pay a fee for three FOIA requests since October 2014 (two in 2015).

According to the WPD, only four other requests in 2015 have required payments.

The most expensive FOIA  was in response to Telegram & Gazette reporter Brad Petrishen’s request for copies of citizen complaints against the WPD for the past two years.

Police Chief Gary Gemme

According to the WPD, in order to fulfill that request, it would cost the T&G more than $2,500 for 300 pages of public documents.

T&G Battle for Transparency with Chief Gemme

Stemming from the Massachusetts State Police “botched” no-knock raid on Hillside Street last month, Telegram & Gazette writers have continued to cover the story of the WPD SWAT team’s involvement and has reported on accusations of WPD officers being solely responsible for injuries to two men, scaring children inside the apartment, and holding a naked woman at gunpoint.

For the second time in less than a week, Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme fired back in a released statement this past weekend saying that the WPD will conduct an internal investigation into accusations made by the tenants of 17 Hillside Street #3.

The WPD released police reports of the raid to the public through the media. According to Gemme, “The police reports reveal that our officers acted professionally and in conformance with rules and regulations of the department. These reports show that our officers attended to the children in the home, had emergency medical people on scene, asked if the occupants were sick or injured, and refute the allegation that a woman remained naked and uncovered.”

Chief Gemme responded to allegations made by the T&G for not responding to requests for information from Petrishen.

“Unlike those making accusations, a police investigation is based upon substantiated facts and unlike the reporting and editorializing of some news organizations, a police investigation can not be based upon unsupported allegations,innuendo, or a rush to judgement,” Gemme added.

Petrishen Claims Gemme's Response Lacking

On Twitter, Petrishen responded with an image of the full email (see below) he sent to the WPD with questions regarding the raid. Petrishen went on to tweet out that this is the third time that Gemme has criticized T&G reporters through a press release.

Petrishen also claimed that Gemme's press release on August 29 that responded to the T&G reporter’s questions didn’t include the questions that Gemme chose not to answer.

In response to Petrishen’s tweets, Worcester Magazine reporter Tom Quinn wrote in a tweet, “WPD hasn't answered an email from me in 205 days. So I trust their statements on transparency.”

“In my opinion, this was a shoddy and unprofessional process, one that violated the rights of the residents at 17 Hillside St. and endangered their well-being,” wrote T&G columnist Clive McFarlane. “More significantly, this process was given the blessing of the courts and the Worcester police chief, which means, if this particular affidavit is allowed to stand as a standard for issuing search warrants in Worcester, no home in the city is safe from this kind of military operation.”

Gemme wrote, “In an effort to be transparent about our involvement in this incident we have released the full text of my responses to Worcester Telegram columnist Clive McFarlane and reporter Brad Petrishen . Any suggestion by the media that we have not provided adequate or through answers to questions from the media is inaccurate.”

 

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