It’s a story that seems to show what’s wrong with government, but, in reality, it’s an example of what’s wrong with journalism.
The headline Tuesday at NewsOn6.com was the kind that television news stations dream about: “Piedmont Boy, 3, Gets $2,500 Ticket For Urinating In His Front Yard.”
The initial thought of viewers is outrage, and rightfully so. Ticketing a young child for not being able to control his bladder is inexcusable. That is, until you actually hear the facts, which sadly TV news stations hardly provide.
“A three year old gets his mother in trouble with the law when he gets a ticket from police,” said Channel 9 news anchor Kelly Ogle. The problem is the ticket wasn’t issued to the boy, but instead his mother. It’s a small fact but the truth wouldn’t have produced as flashy a lead.
“Now the little boy’s mother will have to pay thousands of dollars,” anchor Amanda Taylor followed.
Again, it’s fodder ripe for TV sensationalism, but still not true. Piedmont police chief Alex Oblein confirmed Tuesday morning that the amount written on the ticket was the maximum bond and that if the mother did have to pay a fine it would most likely be significantly cheaper.
In fact, Oblein called later in the morning to say charges had been dropped by the district attorney, a move that Channel 9 will no doubt take credit for.
Oblein returned my phone call Tuesday morning, something Channel 9 said they were unable to do the day before. Oblein said the news report made it sound like the officer was a nuisance to neighbors by parking at the end of the street for the last few days. However, the officer was on Ryan Street because police had received complaints from residents that teenagers were damaging cars, even urinating on them. Police were present because they were listening to citizens, not antagonizing them, Oblein said.
Oblein said he has spoken with the officer who said the child was led to the end of the driveway by a teenage family member who instructed young Dillian to pull down his pants and urinate. The officer didn’t actually see the boy pee, but Oblein said the teenager was aware of the officer’s presence and that he may have antagonized the officer. After talking with Oblein, it does sound like the officer could have handled the situation better. He may have been rude and confrontational, a demeanor Oblein has said he wants to change since arriving in Piedmont last summer.
Now, I don’t blame the mother for being outraged. I would probably be equally as mad if I were in her shoes. But the police have worked with the family to drop the charges, and even though Channel 9 reported that the police refused to take a complaint from the family, Oblein said that is not the case and that a complaint was taken Monday.
The mother complained on TV that she should have a right to do whatever she wants on her private property and another family member joked that should include peeing in their front yard if they so choose.
“You can’t just do anything on private property,” Oblein said. “When you are in public view of others, there are some restrictions.”
Was the officer inappropriate in writing the ticket? It’s hard to say. Could he have been more professional? It sounds like he could have. Does there need to be better communication between police and citizen? Sure.
I understand the family’s frustration, but my frustration comes from the fact that this is yet another example of why my industry is suffering.
A three-year-old may have urinated in his front yard, but Channel 9 just urinated all over Piedmont because, just like the majority of TV-based news operations, they understand that facts and effort don’t help ratings.