What alarms me is that, as members of the media and an informed public, we operated under the assumption that Zimmermann's killer walked through an unlocked front door and assailed her. As a downtown resident myself, one who could fire a waterballoon launcher and hit the alley where authorities found Joel Marino's body, I took heed to the warnings of friends and family. They cautioned me, "Lock your doors, even in the middle of the day."
If our original assumptions were correct, and if police are correct in assuming Zimmermann's slaying was indeed a random act, and if they are correct in saying her killer is still at large in the downtown community, locking the door would have been enough to keep anyone safe...Except now, Chief Wray adds, almost as if it were an afterthought, that the killer broke into her house. And it seems like, if my friends and family really wanted to give me good advice, "You ought to consider reinforcing your front door with quarter-inch steel rebar and plating the windows" would have been more appropriate.
I understand the need to keep certain details of an investigation shielded from the public view. As a reporter, I deal with it, I accept it like a brick wall, every day. In Joel Despain's written statement to State Journal reporter Sandy Cullen, he makes note of it as well:
You're DAMN SKIPPY the right thing to do is to confirm the damn detail! A DETAIL?!? A measily, worthless little DETAIL?!? We're talking about the public safety of forty-two thousand University of Wisconsin students and maybe twenty-five thousand more downtown residents. Telling us the door was forced open is simply a START. How about telling us HOW it was forced open, and what WE can DO to keep it from happening to US?
Chief Wray certainly "took time deliberating" over the release of this information...eight days, in fact, during which it could have happened again. I won't insinuate there's a connection between Zimmermann's murder last week and Marino's murder in February, but I wouldn't be the first to do so. The similarities are striking and apparent to anyone who can read. I will, however, drag the other THREE unsolved murders in the past year out onto the table.
Authorities have remained ever-so-tight-lipped about the details surrounding each, but it doesn't seem to have helped them catch the killers. To this day, we don't know how UW-Whitewater student Kelly Nolan was killed after she disappeared from State Street, and police have yet to release any details other than where she was found.
I have a sticker on my computer monitor that reads, "Knowledge is power. Arm yourself." Under this standard, the Madison Police Department has left every single Madison resident vulnerable and defenseless.
Now I know that we're talking about Madison, a metropolitan area of only half a million. Furthermore, I know there are cities that would, pun intended, kill for a murder rate as low as ours. That's what's appealing to so many Madisonians.
Policing is an occupation that puts glory in danger and duty, and Madison ain't New York City. But if Chief Wray and his detectives are occluding details that are in the public's best interest to know so they can have a macho "CSI moment," we have more than a murder problem in Madison. Detective Sipowicz might wear a tie with short sleeves, but even he isn't foolish enough to endanger the public by squelching information. It makes you wonder if they don't just clamp down on details as some kind of demonstration of their authority as police.
It makes you wonder what mistakes and ineptitudes might be exposed if the investigations were more visible to the public. Not that I have any reason to suspect the police have handled the murder investigations in anything but a competent and professional manner. But they have utterly failed in their obligation to keep the public abreast of the crucial knowledge they may have in these murders that affect, endanger and frighten us all.
As a reporter, it becomes easy to fall into the habit of accepting it at face value when a member of law enforcement tells you they've given all the information they can give. It's the authorities' responsibility to keep the public informed and safe, and it's the media's responsibility to do the same. But beyond that, it falls to the media to out the authorities when they're not holding up their end of the bargain.