Police Chief Critical of Newspapers’ Error
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by Dave Smith
In comments today before the Hawaii County Police Commission, Police Chief Harry Kubojiri expressed frustration with what he described as “erroneous” newspaper reporting of the department’s recent community survey.
A total of 608 people — 96.8% of whom stated they were residents of the Big Island — participated in the online “Community Satisfaction Survey” during the month of May.
The survey asked participants questions such as whether they considered the Big Island a safe place to live, work and visit. It also asked them to assess their interaction with police officers and civilian employees of the department.
On Saturday, both Big Island newspapers published an article purportedly about the survey.
In the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, the article was the top front-page story with the headline “Faith in isle police falters” and the subhead “Survey finds fewer people would feel comfortable reporting crime.”
The same article with a similar headline also was featured prominently on the front page in West Hawaii Today, which, like the Tribune-Herald, is owned by Las Vegas-based Stephens Media.
However, instead of focusing on information from the recent survey, the article written by West Hawaii Today reporter Nancy Cook Lauer mistakenly used data from a survey conducted by the department in 2010, comparing it to one done in 2009.
As a result, virtually all of the statistics cited in the story were incorrect, including those used as the premise for the headlines.
“Hawaii County residents are less comfortable calling the police to report a crime than they were four years ago, and many are ambivalent about the Hawaii County Police Department’s ability to serve community needs, according to survey results the department released Thursday,” the article began.
It went on to state that “just under 64%” of those responding either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt comfortable reporting a crime to police, which was down from the 71% who felt the same way in the 2009 survey.
The 2013 survey actually indicated that 70.5% of the respondents currently feel that way, about the same as in 2009.
Both newspapers ran another article by the same reporter on Thursday, this time focusing on the 2013 survey results. It ran on Page 9 in the Tribune-Herald and Page 5 in West Hawaii Today.
Both carried the same headline which said “Most residents comfortable contacting police.”
Both also started with the same editor’s note: “An incorrect version of this article ran in Saturday’s newspaper. This is the updated article on the Police Department’s most recent community satisfaction survey.”
Neither mentioned that the information presented as 2013 data in Saturday’s article was actually three years old.
Kubojiri told members of the police commission that after the first article ran he was approached by numerous people “astounded” by the reporting, particularly the headlines.
“It’s unfortunate that things like this could happen in this day and age, especially if it’s reaching a large audience,” he told commissioners.
Kubojiri told them that the newspapers had run a “correction” story, but that came out nearly a week later.
“A correction made after the fact, after something as erroneous as this has been published, really doesn’t leave an impact on anybody,” he said.
Kubojiri also noted that the second article was carried inside the newspapers, unlike the original which was featured prominently on the front pages.
Several members of the commission agreed the situation was unfortunate, especially considering the fact that the police department has spent recent years working to improve its relations with the public.
That includes regular meetings involving police commanders with the media and with community members in each of the island’s eight police districts.
“The frustrating part is when old information gets out that changes the way that the county or the citizens perceives what the department is doing,” Commissioner John Bertsch said.
Kubojiri said that comments made to him after Saturday’s article included concerns about its impact on the morale of officers and the department’s civilian employees, and the fact that it “paints a wrong picture for the community.”
David Bock, editor of both the Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today, told Big Island Now that he thought the newspapers handled the situation properly.
“I thought it was fair,” he said.
When asked whether there should have been mention of the fact that the first article was based on dated information, Bock declined further comment.
The results of the 2013 survey can be found here.