I’ve been having an interesting and ongoing debate with my various Patch colleagues around the country about an issue that, on the surface, maybe doesn’t seem all that important, but ultimately speaks to some core issues we face as a society. And, because it’s Patch, I thought I would throw this question open to our readers.
The issue is this: should the Police Log publish the names of everyone who gets arrested?
In the city’s online Daily Police Log, those arrested are named, and their dates of birth are included to distinguish them from others who may have similar names. The names are public record, available to all. So there it is.
Now, there is a pretty solid faction of my colleagues who believe, and believe strongly, that if we run a police log on Patch, we should include the names, dates of birth, and any other information that is listed on the public record. Here is the argument: if someone is arrested for suspicion of bank robbery, say, then of course we’re going to publish that; probably even write a separate story about it. So if someone else is arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, how can I justify not publishing that name? Who am I to say that one offense is less important than another? And what if that person arrested for DUI has more than one offense, or is a public official? Seemingly small infractions can point to larger issues, the argument goes. Publish all names, with a disclaimer that an arrest does not imply a conviction.
It’s a compelling argument, I must admit. Public information can and should be available to the public, at least in many instances.
But there is another side to this coin.
I can publish all the disclaimers I want – if someone reads about an arrest, the reader will, for the most part, imply guilt. Otherwise, why would they arrest you? And in a town this small, naming names can have some pretty severe consequences.
In days gone by, it wasn’t perhaps such a bad thing. You got pulled over, arrested for some minor thing or other, your name got published in the newspaper, a week went by and it was forgotten. But these days, if your name gets published in a police log, and that log is on line, it can wind up in a Google search. No, it definitely will wind up in a Google search. And who does those? Potential employers, landlords, people who are interested in finding out who you are. An arrest in this case certainly doesn’t do you any favors, whether or not you are guilty and have been convicted.
In have published a few police logs where the names of the arrested were included. It felt a little strange, and a little intrusive. Mostly, I don’t publish the names, unless it’s a major crime, like bank robbery or a wild car chase through town, or a home invasion. Because if someone is named in an arrest, and a conviction is truly not implied, then shouldn’t we as reporters be willing to follow that case all the way to its conclusion? And then report that outcome? I’m not going to follow a DUI arrest through to its conclusion, unless it’s a public official.
But my colleagues come back and say, who am I to determine what is a major offense and what is not? If I publish any names, I should publish all the names. It’s only fair, and it’s a matter of public record.
I guess it comes down to this: what is the purpose of publishing a police log? Those who favor publishing all the names see the log as an extension of reporting all the information available to the public, and let the public decide the value for themselves. I tend to see the purpose of the log as a way for my users to identify crime trends in their neighborhood so they can take any necessary steps to avoid problems.
So here is today’s poll question. Do you think that all the names of those arrested should be published in the Martinez Patch Police Log? Please feel free to vote, and of course, as always, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section.