According to Sheriff Doug Doughtie, there are a significant number of drug-related crimes and arrests occurring in Dare County. What’s different now is that there is not as much information about them since the sheriff’s office no longer issues press releases when a significant drug arrest is made.
Until recently, that office had produced and disseminated releases about a number of those arrests that provided detailed information about the case, often included photographs of the suspects and were, at a minimum, several paragraphs in length.
When asked about the decision to stop publishing the releases, Doughtie told the Sentinel that, “I don’t know why we started doing it that way.” He added that the curtailing of those releases did not signal a change in policy within the department.
“We may be starting to look at doing press releases again,” he added. “We are still arresting and there’s a lot going on, we just don’t put it out as often as we did.”
Many of those releases generated local media coverage and may have tended to create a perception of significant drug activity in Dare County. Judging by the response and comments to those releases on the Sentinel’s Facebook page, they often triggered interest and conversation among the public.
The primary source of information about arrests is now the monthly crime blotter published on the sheriff’s office website and sent to media outlets. The monthly Sheriff’s Blotter for unincorporated Dare County contains items that are generally about a dozen words long and tersely describe the charge, crime and where it occurred. No names are included.
The monthly Arrest Blotter, which lists individuals who have been arrested on felony charges and taken to the Dare County Detention Center, does include suspect names and drug arrests. But the items are also very brief and condensed, appear with abbreviations and acronyms, and contain no details.
When asked about the extent of drug problems in the county, Doughtie said that, “Drug arrests are down a little from where we were because we’ve put so much effort into it.” But he also noted that cocaine, heroin and prescription pills are still prevalent in the community.
Amanda Martin, a communications lawyer who serves as general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association, said she could not speculate on reasons why the department stopped issuing the releases. And she stated that it is under no legal obligation to publicly disseminate information about the arrests.
But she also stressed that “the public is best served when there is utter transparency – good or bad. I am an advocate for whatever information is out there, that it should be public.”
Martin said that, if the information reveals a problem, and the public is aware, it could lead to a number of initiatives, from allocating more resources to law enforcement, allocating different resources or fostering some other change.
“That’s the benefit of transparent government,” she added. “The public has the ability to learn the facts and make judgments based on those facts.”