Last Sunday, the Sun Journal published an analysis of arrest rates by race in Lewiston and Auburn and we failed to include comments that had been sent to us by Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen.

We failed.

It is a failure for which I take complete responsibility.

Further, the story included a line noting that the chief did not respond to a request for comments, reflecting poorly on him.

I apologize to him for that. He responded as we asked, and thoughtfully so, and we told our readers he did not.

The chief was understandably angry by the lapse, and passionately took his message of condemnation to Facebook.

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I weighed in with an apology for what I consider a grave error with an assurance that we would publish the chief’s comments in full along with a guest column from Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, both of which are on this page, intending to capture the same Sunday readership that saw the original reporting.

It’s not enough.

Let me explain what happened.

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In mid-June, after the Sun Journal ran stories about the disparate arrest rates for minority populations in Portland and in South Portland, we heard from a number of readers asking us if that data was available in Lewiston and Auburn and, if it was, to report it.

To that end, on June 17 Staff Writer Christopher Williams sent requests to the police departments in Lewiston and Auburn seeking access to data that included arrests by charge, race, age and date.

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It was a big ask, and we promptly heard back from Chief Moen that the department’s analyst determined he would have to write a special query program to gather everything we asked for, which would be time-consuming and costly. Instead, the chief offered to provide a report the department already generates analyzing arrests annually by race, age and gender. The only data we asked for that was missing was charging information, tracking what people had been arrested for, but the report contained enough to examine arrest rates by race, so we asked for these reports going back five years.

The Lewiston Police Department provided similar reports.

On July 8, two days after he received the requested data from Auburn, I asked Williams if we had enough information to analyze arrest rates in the Twin Cities and he said we did, so I asked him to work on a story to run last Sunday.

The assignment was in direct response to readers who found the disproportionate arrest data in Portland disturbing.

The Lewiston and Auburn data revealed minority arrest rates here are high, higher than Portland, and Williams sent emails to the police chiefs and contacted the mayors in both cities seeking comment, asking specific questions to each person about the disparity in numbers and what may account for that.

The messages to each police chief were sent out mid-day last Thursday, with a deadline for response set for noon Friday.

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We heard from Lewiston’s chief that afternoon.

Chief Moen sent his response late Friday morning, before the deadline we set, but Williams did not see it. He was watching for it, but didn’t see it because his iPhone is set to conversation mode, which groups emails, collapsing them into a single conversation.

This is not an excuse. This is an explanation.

On Sunday, when the chief saw that his comments were not included in the story, he sent Williams a measured note — copied to me — that read: I sent my response to you at 10:15am. I would request that you retract your comment about me not responding in time and add my comments into the story. If not, our working relationship in the future could be problematic.

Mayor Levesque sent a similar note to Williams, and another one to me.

Williams apologized and quickly deleted the line that the chief had not commented from the story, and added in his comments. He also explained why he missed the chief’s message, and wrote: I can assure you it was not my intention to exclude you from the story and hope this aberration won’t affect our future working relationship. I can also assure you that I will reach out in the future if I haven’t heard from you by deadline.

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A half-hour later, Williams sent a second note to the chief to apologize more vigorously, taking responsibility for the error, and sharing the edits that had been made to the story. The chief replied, thanking Williams for correcting the error.

Then, on Monday, Williams called the chief to apologize once again and to make sure he was aware the story had been updated and a correction issued. The chief acknowledged both, and offered no further criticism.

The following day, Tuesday, the chief posted his message to the Auburn Police Department FB page condemning the failure to include his comments and failure to reach out to him before publication.

Once again, I apologize for the error and thank Mayor Levesque and Chief Moen for their contributions to the story, including providing statistics on the high rate of nonresident shop-lifting crimes that affect Auburn’s numbers, for vocalizing support for the police department’s commitment to the values of justice and fairness, and asserting their unwavering faith in the department.

Judith Meyer is executive editor of Sun Media Group. You can reach her at [email protected]


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