Editorial: JSO needs to fix not informing media, public

WJXT Editorial by Vice President/General Manager Bob Ellis

Author: Bob Ellis, WJXT general manager
Published On: Jun 25 2013 06:00:00 PM EDT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

There's a lot we still don't know yet about the tragic death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. What is becoming clearer in the past few days is the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office did not do a good enough job alerting the public there was a search for a missing child.

Sheriff John Rutherford admitted to our news department Monday the public should have been told sooner a girl was believed to have been kidnapped by a known sex offender. As you know, the fastest way this happens is by telling the news media; we immediately go on TV and spread the word by showing pictures and giving vehicle descriptions.

According to the timeline, the mother reported her daughter missing from Walmart late Friday night. Police arrived at about 11:20 p.m. But it took more than five hours before the media knew it was a little girl missing with a known sex offender.

To be clear, the issue isn't about the media; it's about you, the people of Jacksonville. We take very seriously our role to inform you about what's happening where you live. We have been told over and over by law enforcement time is critical in the immediate hours after a child has been abducted. Why didn't JSO practice what it preaches? The sheriff promised he'd find out.

JSO's hand-to-the-face attitude toward the news media is well-documented. We are perceived as adversaries instead of allies. You'll remember they removed police scanners from our newsrooms two years ago so we wouldn't hear about police activity in Jacksonville as it was happening.

More recently we've been prohibited from having direct access to police reports.

We applaud Sheriff Rutherford for admitting there was a breakdown in the early morning hours Saturday. But JSO needs to explain to you what happened, and they need to fix it. Knowing what's happening in your neighborhood is how you take steps to keep your family safe. Nothing can be done now to save Cherish. It appears though overdue changes in JSOs policies to notify the public might help avoid the next time.

Timeline of events shows JSO response, media notification of girl's abduction, killing