The first time I met Provincetown Police Chief Jim Golden, back when I was an editor at the Banner, he told me his reason for refusing to answer questions about an assault case I was investigating. “My job is to keep the people in this community safe,” Golden said. “Your job is to sell newspapers.”
In a narrow sense, of course, he was right. A newspaper can’t do its work if no one buys it. But the chief’s simple-minded view of the role of the press focuses only on the danger of sensationalizing crime stories and ignores the legitimate purpose of reporting them: informing readers about how our police departments, prosecutors, and courts work — or don’t work.
I’ve written in this column before about the reasons why the Independent doesn’t publish a raw list of the names of people who have been arrested. Instead, we ask ourselves what purpose reporting on a particular case will serve. We put the highest priority on cases that illuminate serious issues in our systems of law enforcement and our social service and mental health networks.
Three years ago we reported that, in our towns, Black people were about three times as likely as others to be arrested or stopped while driving, based on demographic data. Sophie Mann-Shafir’s follow-up report two months ago found that nothing has changed, and that police officials’ explanations for the discrepancy — that it is the result of an influx of Black workers and visitors in the summer — are at odds with the departments’ own statistics, which show that Black drivers experience the highest share of stops during the winter.
We also reported on a disturbing encounter in June between Provincetown police and some young men at the East End basketball court after a false report that a Black youth was dancing there “with a gun in his hand.” That incident resulted in calls for more attention to so-called community policing. Progress on that front has been slow.
Last week Sam Pollak produced a meticulously researched story about the arrest of Provincetown innkeeper Paul Schofield after four of his tenants, all J-1 visa workers from Bulgaria, reported repeated incidents of harassment, theft, and assault to the police — who, the students say, refused to take action. Their claims are corroborated by their local employers at the Dolphin Fleet and Mad as a Hatter.
Schofield, it appears, was finally arrested only because the town’s health director, Lezli Rowell, witnessed him assaulting one of the students.
Pollak’s article is notably missing any comment from the police. We have been trying to get an official response to questions about how they handled this case, without results. The police would not even provide an arrest report, a public document, which we had to obtain by going to the district court.
I don’t expect Chief Golden will ever appreciate our inquiries, but his job comes with responsibilities. Keeping the public safe is one of them; being accountable to the public is another.