On Guam, three hours is a long time for two inmates with a history of violence, robbery and other crimes to be on the loose after escaping from prison.
Yet it took nearly that long for the Department of Corrections to let the public know that the inmates had escaped. And DOC knew they had access to a vehicle so they could get to places faster.
The Department of Corrections issued a statement at 12:15 a.m. Thursday – by email – to news organizations that two inmates had escaped.
There's no reason why DOC management didn't let the public know soon after the 9:18 p.m. escape on Wednesday.
DOC management received calls from reporters soon after rumors of the escape spread on social media.
The least DOC management could have done was confirm the incident right away so the public would not resort to digging for information on their own. The lack of information left a vacuum for erroneous information to spill into the community, and that – as it usually does – caused unnecessary confusion and fear.
Every member of the public had the right to know about the escape as soon as officials found out. We needed that information to protect ourselves. We needed that information so we'd be careful while walking to or from our vehicles. We needed that information so we can let our friends and family know to be careful. We needed that information so we could take more precautions in our homes by locking our doors and windows, keeping the exterior lights on and ensuring alarm and video surveillance systems are working. We needed that information so we wouldn't answer knocks at our doors from strangers. There's a whole host of other ways we could have prepared to protect ourselves once we knew two prisoners were on the loose.
The Guam Police Department did issue a statement at 10:49 p.m., a little more than an hour after the escape, but GPD had to get that information from DOC management.
There has been a tendency in the government to withhold the release of information right away – hoping the officials responsible for releasing it could put a spin or present it in a way that would soften perceptions of a department or agency.
When it comes to matters that risk the public's safety, no amount of effort to package the delivery of the information will help these officials gain the public's trust. The longer the delay, the more skeptical the public could become.
When it comes to protecting the public, good leaders will not worry about their image. Their focus will be on helping to ensure the public is armed with information to keep themselves safe.
We hope for better, faster ways of releasing public safety-sensitive information next time.