Editorial, Wednesday, May 27, 1998

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Wednesday, May 27, 1998

Mississippi’s Legislature wrestled long and hard with a bill during the 1998 session that would allow experts other than physicians to testify about child abuse in court.

The change sensibly broadens the potential witness pool in child abuse prosecutions to include other professionals certified as experts by the court. The new law doesn’t exempt physicians from testimony, but it takes the full burden off their shoulders.

Experts whether physicians or others certified by the courts always should be willing to provide pertinent, truthful information. However, a broader rule about expert testimony gives prosecutors stronger weapons with which to pursue child abuse prosecutions. It increases a reasonable expectation of conviction where credible evidence is presented.

Sheer volume in the number of reported (but not necessarily substantiated) child abuse cases statewide supports the broader definition of a certified expert in child abuse. The numbers have risen dramatically in recent years (17,000 statewide last year), and public awareness plays a big role in the increase. Lee County, for example, had 701 reported cases in the most recent reporting period the fourth highest total in the state.

Cathy Grace of the Family Resource Center said Lee County’s report volume probably reflects high public awareness and increasing willingness to come forward with information that could lead to prosecution. District Attorney John Young’s office is working with a special grant to more vigorously pursue child abuse prosecutions. The Family Resource Center is a clearinghouse and facilitator for a wide range of family-related issues

Grace said the expanded witness law should help in obtaining convictions, either through court action or plea bargains, if it’s coupled with improved prosecution and the resources to support the effort.

The new law’s provisions include protection for people who report child abuse, provisions allowing grandparents to testify in youth court proceedings, and speedier reporting requirements from the Department of Human Services to law enforcement agencies.

Child abuse won’t disappear because of the laws, but those who are guilty will find no comfort in it.

Child abuse remained a hidden, unspeakable crime for many years. Once light fell on the issue its pervasiveness became apparent across the sociological spectrum.

Its victims, innocent and powerless except under the strong hand of the law, require society’s continuing scrutiny. More reforms should be examined at the legislative level supported, as this year, by the testimony of experts and those who know first hand of abuse’s grim realities.

Veterans Park expands potential for city system

The delayed and long-awaited June 23 opening of Veterans Park in east Tupelo expands by leaps and bounds the attractiveness and versatility of the city’s parks and recreation program.

Weather delays during 1997 put development of the softball-baseball complex on the 186-acre site a full year behind schedule, and some of the finishing touches pushed the opening back another month past an announced May 28 ceremony.

However, all the pieces seem to be coming together for the $1.6 million project.

The park gives the east side of the city a facility comparable to the sparkling Ballard Park complex in west Tupelo minus the Sportsplex athletic fields used by the city’s soccer leagues.

Veterans Park eventually will include tennis courts, three miles of exercise trails, picnic sites, tennis courts and an activities center. The fully developed park should take some of the user pressure off Ballard Park, enhance the residential attractiveness of nearby neighborhoods and developments, and increase participation in organized, recreational sports/fitness programs.

Parks and recreation opportunities usually show up in the quality-of-life indices used to measure communities’ attractiveness. Most of the best-run, most prosperous and fastest-growing cities in the nation provide stellar parks/recreation under public sponsorship.

Tupelo’s parks program became a pacesetter for Mississippi and the region decades ago, especially for cities in Tupelo’s population category. The community can’t afford anything less than a continuing standard that anticipates needs and pushes people toward activities and healthy involvement.