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Opinion
WYPR's Senior News Analyst opines on recent Maryland news.

Fortunately For Baltimore, The Sun Still Takes Its Responsibility Seriously

Tom Chalkley
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Would we know how often our citizens are brutalized by the police if a newspaper had not laid it out so dramatically – and authoritatively?

Fortunately, The Baltimore Sun (where I worked for more than 30 years) takes seriously a newspaper’s responsibility. A Sun series reports that more than $11 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent in the past few years to defend the city and to settle cases brought against city police.

No one can claim – as often happens in such cases – that the brutalizing didn’t happen. The Sun reported the city was involved in 102 court judgments and settlements of up to $500,000. Forty-three of them were $30,000 or more.

What the newspaper has done, in addition to uncovering flagrant abuse, is lay the groundwork for real reform. The police say changes have been in the works. The newspaper can now hold Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts accountable for reforming the system.

The value of persistent digging and page one publication is illustrated by one of the major official reactions to the story: 'we didn’t know.' One obvious needed reform: making sure everyone, particularly city officials, know what's happening when city funds have to be spent defending rampant alleged abuses.

In the wake of economic forces that threaten the existence of newspapers, resources for costly investigations of this kind have been depleted. The series by reporter Mark Puente suggests some level of recovery.

Baltimore will be safer and more livable if the Sun maintains the pressure. If the police are lawbreakers, the people will not trust them – or cooperate with them. Simple as that.

Maybe The Sun is back in the business of providing what it has promised since its founding in 1837: Light for All.

Your comments ae welcome at fsmith@wypr.org.