The Storey Teller has posted Arrest Reports both with and without Mug Shots.
In posting Mug Shots, I am conflicted.
On the one hand, they serve as a (perhaps ineffective) deterrent; If you don’t want your face to show up in the public shaming gallery you might think twice about embarking on a life of crime. Sheriff Antinoro sends them out specifically for that purpose. If we have a husband beater or thief in our community, the community needs to know about it.
On the other hand, if you got a ticket and you couldn’t pay it because you chose to feed your kids instead of paying the ticket and you couldn’t show up to court to beg for mercy or payments because you would get fired and you got a bench warrant issued for your arrest and your friend got pulled over and you had to hand over your ID for a warrant check you got arrested on the outstanding warrant, is it fair to publish your picture next to the husband beaters and the drunk drivers?
I got into this discussion with my good friend Peter the Dane, a Danish Journalist I met earlier this year while he was traveling the United States writing stories for Denmark’s most widely read magazine. In Denmark, it is illegal to discuss the criminal convictions of anyone not convicted of a felony and getting less than a year sentence. As in you can’t name the person when they get arrested or during the trial. He thinks the idea of public humiliation is morally bankrupt. And he has an excellent point.
Here in the States the news media lives by the sensationalist credo “If It Bleeds, It Leads”. I found myself falling victim to this mentality when I first started this news site because I wanted to scoop the local fish wrap. I quickly realized it is laughably easy to scoop the Comical because they print once a week. My iPhone can post at the scene of the news if the mood strikes me, nothing more instantaneous than that. So I decided to take a more judicious approach to breaking news. While mug shots aren’t breaking news, they are sensationalist.
Angela Mann, the last real journalist to cover the Comstock, told me that the Sheriff’s Office Incident report was the first place her readers turned because they wanted to see what the scofflaws were up to in their neighborhood. She said the Mug Shots were part of what titillates the hidden gossip in us all, reading the misfortune of others.
So what do we do?
Do I Post the Mug Shots because I want to give my readers what they want? Even if I know that at least one or two of the sad eyes are victims themselves?
Do I print the arrest details without the picture? Only print the picture of people arrested of Felonies? Simply ignore them altogether.
Well, kind reader, you tell me.
Post a comment and let me know about how you feel.
Inquiring minds want to know…
Interesting question, and glad to hear you’re giving it some thought. For my two bits worth, yes, print the text of the sheriff’s logs / incident reports but redact the names. The news value here is in the incidents, what they tell us about what is going on in the community, and how the Sheriff’s Department is dealing with it. The names are irrelevant–and the publicity could discourage people from filing legitimate complaints (loud parties, barking dogs, etc) which could, in turn, cause the issue to simmer, and maybe explode later. With respect to people who are arrested, publishing their mug shots is a gratuitous personalization that is so off the charts I don’t think it even deserves consideration. The key point is that in our country–unlike most other places in the world–you are innocent until proven guilty (even if you are arrested). In other words, as a citizen you are presumed not guilty/innocent/didn’t do it unless and until the state can prove otherwise. Unfortunately, and the Sheriff seems to have provided a good example of this thinking, most readers probably assume you wouldn’t have been arrested if you didn’t do something. Putting a person’s name (and picture!) in the paper only subjects every individual who is arrested to this misguided presumption of guilt–for the sake of titillating a few readers?
I think the news value of incident reports with names redacted for most incidents would be best; I assume these would be mostly minor misdemeanors. However, if there are felony charges involved, or perhaps gross misdemeanors, or repetitive misdemeanors, I think public reporting is important, so that residents can be alert for a potential recurrence and take precautions, if they deem them appropriate. This knowledge would be a useful public service. It IS true that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and I firmly support that premise. I also believe if serious charges are involved, it is a matter the public should be made aware of. In that situation, a picture would be appropriate, in my opinion. Otherwise, I think it is mostly public shaming, which I don’t think is very effective.
Just for the record, the Sheriff’s Office releases a list of incidents each week along with arrest/bookings to the media at the request of the media outlets. What they choose to print is their choice. If we had no requests there would be nothing printed and it would save my staff time in compiling this data, which is public information. Information that is not subject to public release laws is not released.
Storey County Sheriff’s Office
I sometimes think mugshots could be helpful, for the right crimes, however, I can say I’ve never had it actually be useful. If it’s a pain, don’t do it 🙂