To the Editor:
Growing up in Bar Harbor, everyone I knew appreciated Police Beat with a kind of cheeky, self-referential humor. We lived in a small town — a quiet, close-knit community where stray dogs, misplaced bikes and cars mired on Bar Island were all incidents “serious” enough to merit inclusion in the local paper.
Strangely, we also placed a high degree of deference to this seemingly offbeat section. As a child, I always assumed that the column was an actual extension of the Police Department, a necessary addendum that was published because the Bar Harbor Times and the Mount Desert Islander were the papers of record for MDI. In my mind, that made the Police Beat section some kind of government-mandated public document.
Now, I know that of course that’s not true. There is no law obligating the Mount Desert Islander to run this column, and as a longtime subscriber, I increasingly question its relevance. Because, while we all like to smile at the various misdemeanors carried out by raccoons and coyotes, the real reason everyone on MDI peruses the Police Beat is to see who we know — whose child, father or mother — was arrested for drunk driving, or some other embarrassing crime.
MDI is insular enough already — a provincial place where rumors and innuendos swirl with the slightest of evidence. Amplifying the private lives of private residents seems wholly unnecessary.
I know that the Mount Desert Islander is a small community paper, but every publication should have standards of newsworthiness based on the public interest of each story. The chief of police driving drunk should make the news. A lobsterman? Not so much. A kid who messes up and smokes a joint should not be publicly shamed and tsk-tsked for the next five years by everyone who reads his name in the paper.
The Mount Desert Islander also shouldn’t be unquestioningly printing the name of everyone arrested by the Police Department, particularly since these are private individuals and many have yet to be convicted under any court of law. An arrest does not necessarily mean guilt, although when a name pops up in the Police Beat, everyone assumes that to be the case.
The Police Beat began as a quirky snapshot in to small town life. It has long since stopped becoming anything other than a gossip mill. It is time to retire this pointless, smug and archaic feature of the paper.