Rumors of violent assaults that have "gone viral" on social media and the blogosphere of violent assaults prompted City Manager Jane Howington to hold a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. She addressed the rumors to assure the community that random, violent assaults are not as pervasive in Newport as the rumor mill makes them seem.
Newport Police Chief Gary Silva and Lt. William Fitzgerald were also on hand to answer questions.
“We had one assault that triggered the blogs that created the [current] atmosphere,” she said, which she likened to a social media-induced panic.
The incident, which is still under investigation, involved a group assaulting a man who confronted them about playing loud music outside of his house late at night.
Howington attributed the snowball effect to the social media community connecting and drawing conclusions between incidents that may not be legitimate. She said there have been social media reports of “an array of assaults.”
Howington said any other rumored similar incidents, are just that, rumors, and have not been reported to police. Rumors include various instances of people being jumped, attacked or assaulted.
“We're not saying [some rumors] are not true, they're just not documented.”
Rumored reports of gang activity, however, are untrue, she said.
“We just wanted to make sure we're not missing anything.”
Members of Newport's hospitality industry have reported hearing murmurs of Newport being unsafe destination and feared tourists saying they did not want to visit the city because of recent assault reports.
“[These rumors] could have a major impact on our economy,” Howington said.
Seasonal workers and their employers have also expressed concern with rumored assaults since many employees carry large amounts of tip money late at night.
“If anyone feels unsafe, we need to do a better job," Howington said.
Silva said the police department had not received any other assault reports consistent with the rumored instances.
“We can't control social media,” he said.
Silva said rumored reports they receive are mainly second or third-hand accounts. In order to accurately gauge assault trends in Newport, he advised victims and those with information about assault instances report them to the police department or the city.
In order for the city to be proactive, rather than reactive, people have start reporting assault incidents, he said.
“We don't have an assault problem,” Howington said. “We are a very safe community.”
The city and the police department will follow up the conference with crime statistics to further pinpoint whether or not these types of assaults are a problem and how to address any potential issues.
If you have any information that you would like to report, contact the Newport Police Department at 401-847-8300.