Previously the policy of this publication was to abstain from publishing the local arrests as reported by various local law enforcement agencies. The reasoning for that early policy was born from a personal distaste for public humiliation and the realities of a digital age. Almost every business partner, prospective employer, landlord, and even your insurance company does a routine google based background search. To place that persons name and future in jeopardy over the arrest report seems unjust. Especially when the charges filed against a defendant at arrest are typically more serious than the actual judgement against them by the court.
That position wasn’t popular with some, and that reaction was expected. Readers want the workings of the criminal justice system and the professionals who work in that system want their work acknowledged. While these perspectives were not lost on me, the bigger picture wasn’t in focus. Enter Oak Duke, former publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter. Oak understands the “blotter,” better than most, its popularity and its potential to be a major headache with furious defendants, embarrassed friends, powerful advertisers, threats and arm twisting.
Still Duke was quick to tell me, “Not publishing the local police reports is the wrong decision, and I think you should rethink that.”
Taken back, I had to pry more of Oak’s perspective out from decades of running the newspaper business of Wellsville NY. He made some very good points, from the business of providing a community information, to the respect due the law enforcement officers who work for the citizens. Those citizens fund law enforcement, so they have a natural desire to see the reports filed, which also adds a layer of accountability. Law enforcement officers and supporting staff are working for the public, and feel that a public report of that work is important. The responsibility of informing the citizenry on government matters lies with the press. Naturally the more high profile the government agency is, the more information flows to the people through the news. Law enforcement is perhaps the most high profile agency.
So being largely in agreement with Oak I had to press him on a lingering feeling of unease. The shaming of the arrestee by name, the digital legacy that creates, and the consequences on our entire community. It is morally wrong to shackle anyone with a digital arrest record when they haven’t even had their day in court. How many wayward souls have been arrested, published in the local news, but had the charges mostly dropped?
The retired publisher and the wanna be publisher had a pause, and a few acknowledgements of the complexity of the argument. After the dust settled the answer seemed pretty clear, and reasonable:
The Wellsville Sun will start publishing a regular police report page, removing names, and adding some color, to the reports. Big shots, major criminals, or public officials who are arrested should expect to be named in the reporting.
Thanks to Oak for tying together a complicated and important part of local news. If the subject is of great interest to you and you have the notion, shoot me an email anytime: [email protected].
Stay tuned for the first Police Reports to hit the Wellsville Sun.