Last month, The Associated Press announced that it will no longer publish the names or photographs of suspects charged with minor crimes. In doing so, the national news cooperative acknowledges the immortality of news in the internet age — upholding the fundamental principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
The Herald follows The Associated Press’ (AP) guidelines for style, grammar and reporting. Examples of these recommendations include the capitalization of the word Black when used in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, the exclusion of the oxford comma between the last two items of a list and the barring of alleged victims’ names from crime stories.
The newspaper will also follow AP’s decision to no longer publish the names or photographs of people charged with non-felony crimes, both in news articles and in law enforcement blotters. This change in the Herald’s naming policy has been on our minds for some time, and we are pleased AP has formalized it.
In recent years, the Herald has published the names of all suspects arrested (or cited with a DUI) in Lake County regardless of the severity of the crime. The newspaper does not publish (and never will publish) the names of arrested juveniles or those involved in medical calls.
From here on out, the Herald will only publish the names of suspects arrested for felony crimes, such as assault, robbery or murder, in the police blotter and in news articles.
In the days of the internet age, where search engines serve as all-knowing archives of time, misdemeanor charges can stick around forever. Charges become part of a person’s online identity, regardless of whether the charges were dropped or a suspect is deemed innocent by a jury.
At the Herald, we do not have the resources to follow up on every arrest listed in the newspaper’s blotters. So, in most cases, we publish the name of a suspect after she or he is arrested and never follow up on the outcome. This practice has contributed to a presumption of guilt, not innocence.
Every few months, a local calls to let us know that the charges listed beside their name in the blotter were dropped shortly after being arrest. We always issue a clarification noting the acquittal, but at that point the damage is done.
Police blotters do serve an important purpose. They help the community pinpoint what types of crimes are on the rise, where car accidents are common, who failed to register as a sex offender, and how local law enforcement agents spend their time.
The Herald will keep publishing the Leadville Police Department and Lake County Sheriff’s Office blotters for this reason, write-ups that will continue to provide short descriptions of crime incidents and 911 calls, just with less attached names.
The police blotters might be a little shorter and a little less “juicy” from here on out. But is this change a worthy trade-off to help uphold the presumption of innocence? We think so.