How does one balance the need to protect an ongoing investigation with the right of the public to know what’s happening?
Is it an all or nothing proposition?
John Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know.”
Governmental activities that are not transparent are more prone to corruption and undue influence because there is no public oversight.
Transparency is a way of protecting fairness and safeguarding the common good. It helps ensure that everyone has equal access to justice and protects our common welfare.
This is true of our governing bodies, agencies, courts and prosecutors. That is why there are laws in place to provide openness.
Consider Great Bend as being proof to that.
It is troubling when the county attorney exerts unbridled authority over our police department to ensure its silence even when officers feel certain important information needs to be shared in an effort to protect the public.
It is understandable that law enforcement would follow the request of the county attorney. After all, there needs to be a good working relationship in order for the judicial process to work effectively.
But, no matter how good the intention may be, gag orders can only be ordered by a court.
It is our duty as citizens to question criminal proceedings conducted in secrecy.
Now, we do have to understand that there are certain codes of professional conduct the county attorney must follow. But no one is looking for opinions or all of the nitty-gritty details.
We are looking for the facts as they can best be determined. No one is looking to prejudice potential jurors. A juror must be impartial to the case they are hearing, but there is no stipulation that they must be completely ignorant.
Can you imagine if there had been no information shared with the public on the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., except, “14 dead. Suspects killed. No more information can be released because this is an ongoing investigation?”
Should the public be given additional information? Or more importantly, does the public have the right to know more?
The Tribune will continue to do our best to help bring information to light that you, the public, is entitled to know.
Fortunately Barton County and the City of Great Bend are willing to cooperate and understand the importance of requests made under the Kansas Open Records Act.
Kudos to Chief Cliff Couch for trying his best to put the interests of Great Bend’s citizens first.
John Adams had it right, “The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people’s hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice.”
The protection of the innocent is far more important than the prosecution of the guilty, and the right to information keeps the power where it should be—with the people.