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03/03/2010

DuPage County pulls out the muzzle

(DARIEN) The want to know. The need to know.  The right to know.


Those three things can be at odds, especially when covering police investigations.  Especially when a crime happens in DuPage County.  

I'm reminded of that once again today as I sit outside the Kramer's family home.  A mother, father and their 20 year-old son were murdered here in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  Other family members cowered in a closet or ran to a neighbor's house for help.

This morning we learned Darien Police reached out to law enforcement in Florida where a suspect may have fled.  The Hamilton County, Florida Sheriff began to fill us in on their search for this "armed" and "possibly suicidal" suspect.  Then he abruptly stopped.  The long arm of the DuPage County State's Attorneys Office reached out and muzzled the sheriff with a southern drawl.   Prosecutor Joe Birkett also ordered Darien Police to stop updating the media on a crime that has shaken this community.

That's no surprise to those of us who have covered this area for years.  Requests from DuPage County prosecutors are routinely cited as the reason suburban police can't give out even the most basic of information on high profile crimes.  Prosecutors correctly want to protect their case and make sure police says as little as possible publicly so those statements won't come back to undermine their case.

The problem, as I see it, is the tremendous gap between what police in Cook, Will or Kane Counties are willing to say about a public safety issue and what is said here in DuPage County. Citizens have a right to know, almost as soon as police do, whether the public is at risk from a criminal on the loose.  

Sometimes information isn't shared because it's in the best interest of justice.  And sometimes, I've seen police hold off on sharing important news simply because a "law and order" politician wants to take center stage at a press conference.


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