Mark Scott: Hold us all accountable

Published 3:40 pm Saturday, August 25, 2018

No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will. — Thomas Jefferson

I believe that the freedom of the press, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is one of the most important guarantors of a free and democratic society. Whatever your current opinion may be of our national media outlets, I believe that our local news outlets, whether print, television, radio, or internet based, are the key to keeping the public informed of local happenings and to holding government and community leaders accountable for their actions. There have been some comments made in one of our local publications that, “Chief Scott has more time in as a professional journalist than as a police officer.” In reality, having just marked my 29th anniversary as a police officer this month, there is no vocation in which I have had more time than being a police officer.
That being said, I must disclose that my first career choice was actually journalism. I worked part-time as a news photographer for WCTV, the CBS affiliate in Thomasville/Tallahassee while I was attending college in Valdosta (they did and still do have a news bureau there). When I graduated in 1985, I went to work full-time as the night editor, editing video and writing copy for the 11:00 news. I later transferred to the Thomasville news bureau as a photographer and worked there until I joined the Thomasville Police Department in 1989.
Those years spent in the news business had a profound effect on my attitude toward and respect for the local press. As I have risen through the ranks as a police officer, one of my primary duties has been to work with the media to make sure that they get what they need to accurately report on events in our community, while still protecting the integrity of ongoing criminal investigations. When I was hired as the Chief of Police here in Americus, I came making a commitment to be as open and transparent with the press and thus with the community as I possibly could. In June of this year we emailed a copy of our department policy on the release of information to news reporters at our area newspapers, television and radio stations asking that they review the policy and give us feedback on any changes they felt needed to be made. We received responses from a couple of media outlets and took those comments in consideration when updating the policy.
As strongly as I believe that the press has a responsibility to hold government leaders accountable for our actions, I also believe that we, as citizens, have a responsibility to hold our local press accountable for printing and broadcasting the truth. I recently received a phone call from the mother of a young man who took his own life in June of this year. She was in tears over comments in a local publication making false allegations about her son’s death, apparently based on second-hand accounts of something that may have been posed on Facebook. This grieving mother could not understand why someone would print malicious, unsubstantiated rumors about her son, causing her family renewed pain and grief. Sadly, I could not give her an answer, because I don’t understand it either.
I will close with an open invitation to anyone who has questions about anything involving the Americus Police Department to ask us those questions. My email address is if you would like to contact me directly, or you can call the department and talk to me or the employee of your choice. We are committed to being as open and transparent as we can, bearing in mind that there may be some things that we cannot disclose about an open investigation. I will also issue a challenge to the Americus/Sumter County Community to continue to hold all of us accountable, including our local news media. If any of us are not living up to our obligations to be open and truthful, the people of this community should call us out.

Mark Scott is chief, Americus Police Department.