Did the City of Lawton Get Caught Lying About Crime Rates?
It seems there have been a fair amount of shenanigans between the City of Lawton and the usually timid news media in Southwest Oklahoma this week. Varying and changing crime statistics days apart have the local news channel calling foul and the citizens demanding answers... but it's a long story that likely won't have a true answer.
As the story goes, the most recent crime statistics were presented to the Lawton City Council at the November 15 regular council meeting. You can watch a recording of the meeting and the agenda here. When the City of Lawton released these numbers the following day on their Facebook page, they had changed. The local news media picked up on it and started questioning, rightfully so, the validity of the changed crime report. You can read the news story here.
It's so strange seeing questions come from our local news media like this. Whether it's print or television broadcast, they've all traditionally just fallen into line with whatever the City of Lawton was selling that day. Positive to a fault and hardly ever willing to even acknowledge the negatives, but even the most loyal dogs obviously have their limits. I'd like to try to explain this situation to you from behind the media curtain.
History of Spiked Crime
A few years ago - around 2018 or 2019 - when crime started to spike again in Lawton, I remember a massive outpouring of public cries from the citizenry. All of us in the collective media were dependent on what the city provided us for answers. I remember writing a retort about how the crime wasn't nearly as prevalent as Facebook opinions were, and the response was beyond what I expected.
Sure, the Karen's Karened email after email to me. I even received some feedback from our police officers that I wasn't expecting. "The city is lying about crime, Lawton is a ******* warzone," as one officer put it, but there's really no way to prove if that was a fact since it was still an opinion.
After talking with several of our boys in blue about the whole kerfuffle, their general consensus was the City of Lawton was, at a minimum, not telling the whole truth. But again, this was still opinion.
This was all happening behind the scenes as we rolled 2019 into 2020, pre-pandemic. I was locked into this weird place between presenting facts or publishing opinions. While I'm not a journalist, I still feel a strong responsibility to be factual and truthful, so my hands were tied. The fact was that the information the City of Lawton provided was "official" regardless of how many badged officers called shenanigans.
The Pandemic Years
As we entered the pandemic, things changed a little bit. The news media became an unending cycle of pandemic this and pandemic that, everything closed down, events canceled and there was nothing to talk about. Since I'm required to publish two posts each day, we had to find things to talk about.
Unfortunately, and you probably remember this, we started talking about how Lawton was handling the local uncertainties of the global situation... like when they recommended making bandana masks but then made bandanas illegal to buy or sell since they were technically a clothing accessory... Essentially fluff pieces full of opinions.
It didn't take long until we became the voice of the people, sharing their frustrations, and calling a spade a spade in regard to our local government. Not only were we not used to providing the public that sort of First Amendment outlet, but the city also wasn't used to it either. It got to the point where Mayor Stan Booker himself came in to ask us to only report on the positive aspects of Lawton life based on the information the city would provide.
That's when it clicked...
That's why the news media in Lawton has always been so weak - at least, that's my opinion. Surely they too were asked to start licking boots, and I suppose they probably just obliged. Not us though. We stared back with a rock-n-roll rebellious streak a mile long.
We tried to explain that we work as an outlet for popular public belief and opinion rather than official statements and press releases. We're not the news.
When we were asked what it would take to keep us from publishing negative news, we could only offer a logical solution... "Stop giving us negative things to talk about." I don't think anybody left the room that day feeling good about that meeting.
To tell you the truth, instead of finding an endless amount of negative content about the town I've adopted as my home, I'd rather spend my days endlessly sharing the lighter side of things like how this rock at Lake Elmer Thomas looks like a pineapple.
So did the City of Lawton and Mayor Stan Booker get caught lying about Lawton crime statistics?
While KSWO may have put their ex-anchor Caitlin Gatlin on blast due to whatever petty beef might exist there, the city's communications manager can't just pull numbers out of thin air to present as fact... She's just the messenger.
Still, I can't say that the City of Lawton lied about its numbers. Not because I don't think they did, but because that puts me in a weird place of liability. I've heard Lawton's own employees tell horror stories of mismanagement and idiocy at the highest levels, but again, that's opinion, not fact.
So what do you think?
Was it just a happy little accident the numbers changed overnight? Do you believe it was because they randomly started using a different metric process to create alternative math? Or do you simply feel like everyone else does, with little trust for a surprisingly secretive cloak-and-dagger local government? I'll leave that to you.