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Should burglary victims' names be printed?Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008, at 2:16 PM
Should the Times-Gazette publish names of victims of relatively minor crimes -- specifically, individuals whose homes have been broken into?
From one point of view, home burglary reports are public record -- and, if a residence is entered, neighbors need to know so they can watch for the possibility of further incidents. It's simply helping keep your neighborhood safe. Also, if neighbors see a police car outside a home, they want to know why.
This issue came into focus after an individual whose home was entered asked that we not publish their name, exact street address or estimated worth of the stolen objects. The investigating officer was asked to keep the report from the newspaper; he wisely said he'd pass on the request but that the newspaper would make that decision.
I've been considering each report individually for years. For example, if suspects are named (often family members, neighbors, etc.), as opposed to a true burglar invading at random, we usually don't publish the report. That's because, often, no charges end up being filed. This applies to the specific burglary in question.
The victim, who never contacted me directly, was told I'd said that "we can't leave anything out" -- but that's my usual stock answer until I get full details. I do that to make sure no one wants something withheld just because of their supposed prominence in the community (yes, some people expect that), which didn't apply in today's case at all.
Examples of burglaries I've gone lightly on or not published include: Antique-filled homes whose elderly occupants are in nursing facilities; divorcing couples disputing what belongs to whom; or especially-vulnerable people who live alone or have reasonable reason to fear more burglaries. In most of these cases, we'll figure out ways to get the story in without identifying the victim.
For the record, we also receive calls from victims specifically asking that their burglaries be published.
I'm aware that some high-quality newspapers have eliminated publishing burglary victims' names. My view has been that burglary listings should be handled on a case-by-case basis rather than a blanket 'no names' policy.
These types of discussions come up frequently, in the newsroom and even at journalism seminars we regularly attend.
But there's often one missing element in these discussions: Your thoughts -- and I'd really like to know your views.
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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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