A red flag on this story

This is the type of story that is the bread-and-butter for your typical tabloid newspaper, like the Boston Herald. It’s a typical stirring-up-of-emotions that the average reader will identify with. In this case, the story is a level-3 sex offender who was working as a flagger on a road construction site in the wealthy suburb of Boxford, putting the residents on edge.

But there’s more to this story, including an undercurrent typical of Massachusetts politics and a shading of journalistic ethics. First, the background:

A Level 3 sex offender who was working as a state-certified flagger on a busy Boxford street gave horrified residents a Halloween fright this weekend as police officers went door to door to tell them the perv was working nearby.

David Giacalone, 45, was convicted of aggravated rape in 1985 and received his state certification as a flagger at New England Laborers Trust Fund in Hopkinton in June, state officials confirmed.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about the story. It’s not illegal for an ex-con sex offender to work as a flagger, but because of the ruckus he won’t be returning to the job site. I don’t know if the ruckus is justified. The state’s sex offender registry doesn’t provide much information beyond what the article says: He was convicted of a 1985 aggravated rape and the offender registry board considers him a serious threat to offend again. In that case, notification of the community may be justified.

On the other hand, there’s a whole political subtext at work. Gov. Deval Patrick recently ordered that, in certain circumstances, companies employing road crews no longer need to hire off-duty detail cops at very steep rates, but may instead employ civilian flaggers like nearly every other state in the country does to no ill effect. Police unions were understandably upset by this loss of lucrative off-duty work for their members.

Which all leads me to this question: Is it standard practice for police officers to go door to door in a town whenever a level 3 sex offender is nearby? Or did they only do it this time because this sex offender is also a civilian flagger and it would be a useful weapon in their battle with the governor? And why didn’t the Boston Herald reporter and editor ask the same questions? Or if they did, why didn’t they publish the answer?

Once again, I point this out to remind everyone not to take everything you see reported at face value.

 

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