“Some people did something.”
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has caught considerable flak since she used those words in a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
This column is not a commentary on Rep. Omar. Instead, it’s a commentary on how difficult it has become to get usable information about West Virginia’s game-law violators.
For more than three years now, reports about Division of Natural Resources law-enforcement actions have been maddeningly vague. In news releases and in Facebook posts, the media and the public have been told, in essence, “Some people did something.”
We’re told what the violations were, we’re told how the Natural Resources Police solved the crimes, and we’re told that arrests were made or that citations were issued.
We aren’t, however, told one very important thing: Who did it.
A good example of this showed up March 11 on Facebook. It’s a description of an investigation into a hawk shooting.
“On March 9th, Natural Resources Police Sgt. Gary Amick and Officer Joseph Reed responded to a report of an injured hawk in Lincoln County,” the account read. “The officers located and took possession of the hawk that had lost an eye to what was believed to be a gunshot. Officer Reed transported the hawk to Animal Care Associates in Charleston for medical attention.
“Later that day, NRPO Reed received an X-ray of the hawk and was informed of a pellet-sized object located in its head which indicated it had likely been shot by a shotgun. The next day, Officer Reed and [Senior] Trooper Corey Lewis of the WV State Police traveled to the suspect’s residence where he admitted to shooting the hawk.
“The WV DNR would like to thank Sr. Trp. Lewis of the WVSP and Animal Care Associates employees for their help in this case. Charges are pending.”
The suspect was not named. This, sadly, has been the norm since 2016.
Before then, agency officials would issue news releases or call reporters when significant law-enforcement actions took place. They’d tell us the basics we needed to write a story: What the alleged crime was, when it happened, where it happened, what the charges were, and the name, age and hometown of the alleged perpetrator.
This is the basic “police blotter” information given out by all law enforcement agencies — except, apparently, the West Virginia Natural Resources Police.
It’s not the agency’s fault. In private conversations, officers have told me they’d dearly love to make public the names of violators they cite or arrest. The roadblock, they said, was set up by Department of Commerce officials or by someone in the Governor’s office.
The no-name practice started during Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration and has continued under Gov. Jim Justice. I’ve talked to higher-ups in both administrations, and not one of them would tell me who originated the policy or why it was put into place.
If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say some legal eagle is afraid violators named by the NRP in news reports might sue the state for making their names public in connection with “mere” resource-law violations. I might be wrong about this, but so far no one has told me anything to the contrary.
I do know one thing, though. As long as this “no-name” practice continues, would-be violators will be even more emboldened to commit fish and wildlife crimes.
After all, there’s no shame in a report that says, “Some people did something.”