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Police walk a fine line when they think they have a serial rapist on their hands but don't have the evidence to prove it.

They don't want public overreaction if word gets out, nor do they want to give out information that could harm their efforts to make an arrest and obtain a conviction.

It's easy to second-guess police on how much information about a crime should be released, but we hope Bloomington police - and all others for that matter - re-evaluate their policies and think in terms of an informed public being better prepared to help themselves and police.

Ten months ago, Bloomington police could have offered the public more information about a man now believed responsible for four rapes. Instead, police dismissed widespread rumors of a serial rapist at large in the Twin Cities.

Police did not say the reports were untrue. They said they were "unsubstantiated." To the credit of police, they did ask the media to distribute tips on preventing sexual assaults.

It wasn't until this month that Bloomington police acknowledged that recent reports from the FBI said there were enough similarities to suggest the same person may be responsible for the four rapes " one in December 2002; one in April 2003; and two last January.

Police could have said they had four rapes with similarities. They could have released a physical description, said all victims were in their 20s and were attacked in their homes during the early morning hours. Even giving the approximate locations would not have been out of line.

That information may not have led to an arrest, but the public could have taken more precautions, been more attentive and perhaps have provided valuable information about suspicious men in their neighborhoods.

Instead, police said they didn't suggest a serial rapist might be responsible because they didn't want to threaten their ongoing investigation. So the information didn't come out for 10 months. Police said there have been no assaults reported since January tied to the same suspect.

The best course for police is to be honest and upfront, providing cautionary information to squelch rumors but holding back the particulars of each crime so they don't hamper their investigation.

Informing the public of a possible serial rapist on the loose must be a priority.

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