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Pain Reduction, Please!

Following comments appeared as an opinion editorial (op-ed) in the Fayetteville Observer during the winter of 2010.

Pain Reduction, Please!

by Karl W. Merritt

I love and appreciate this country and would not want to live anywhere else. However, I am enduring a period of tremendous emotional and mental pain because of what seems to be a course that I believe could destroy this great nation. Not only do I see it on the national stage, but here in Fayetteville.

The latest contributor to my pain was sitting through most of the Fayetteville City Council’s 19 January meeting where Mr. Dale Iman, City Manager, had been summoned to explain the Police Department’s decision to withhold information from the public regarding several rapes that occurred in recent months.

In my estimation, Mr. Iman did a thorough and professional job of explaining the Police Department’s thought process in timing their notification of the public. I was especially persuaded by his detailing how public notification might adversely impact victims and, thereby, hinder efforts to apprehend and bring the perpetrator to trial. He talked about victims often feeling guilt and not wanting to be identified. Sure, giving information on events might not directly identify victims, but could inadvertently allow for identification. The fallout would likely be victims in this case and others refusing to cooperate with investigations.

With the exception of one Council member, I did not get the impression that members seriously considered the case made by Mr. Iman. It seemed that they had already reached conclusions and were waiting for him to finish the presentation so that their prepared speeches could be made. The attitude of most people in the room appeared to be no different.

Against this backdrop of minds seeming to be made-up before the meeting, I was later able to consider the thinking of a person who counsels rape victims. My impression was that this individual’s experience and knowledge are consistent with the concerns raised by Mr. Iman regarding victims and how mishandling of public notification might affect them and investigative efforts. I saw no indication that members of Council had done what the city manager obviously did by way of consulting persons and other references that might provide credible input on this matter of timing public notification.

Instead, Council’s approach seemed to take four tracks in particular that troubled me. The first was to accuse the police of giving notice because the media was about to break the story. I do not know how that can be proved, but if true, who could blame them in this atmosphere of being underappreciated and constantly scrutinized for negative press?

Second, an effort was made to equate wide-spread thefts of GPSs to rape. In the GPS situation, notification was given early on. The Council member who raised this point repeatedly asked why give early notice on GPS thefts, but not rape. This was one indication of Mr. Iman’s contention that rape had different implications than other crimes and should be handled differently not being heard.

Third, the prevalent position from Council was that the people want to be notified and Council should do what the people want. Let the record be clear. I am not in that group. My desire is that my opinions be considered, but in the end leaders do their homework by way of gathering information, seriously studying the matter, hearing from people who have relevant input, and making decisions that serve “the common good.”

Fourth, because I am an observer of Council, I was not surprised that most members spoke to Mr. Iman in tones that I saw as attacking and disrespectful of him as a person. From the Navy to pastoring, it was pounded into me that reprimanding should be done in private. Members of Council, please try what experience tells me is a far more productive approach to dealing with those we supervise.

Finally, please lead in a fashion that does not simply pander to what you think we want. Risk losing an election. Reduce my pain.

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