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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.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

It should be completely up to the victim. Major crime proceedings are part of the public record, and usually involve some sort of police report to the press in the interest of public safety...but a car break-in in my driveway is NOT newspaper material. As far as I am concerned, a reporter picking up "news" on a scanner is no different than John Q. Public, and, if I choose, I want them nowhere near me or my property (business or residential).

-- Posted by nmonajjem on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 2:46 PM

I don't think names are necessary but I do want to know if someone's home close to my home has been burglarized. Even if it is just their car I still like to have a heads up that something may be going on.

-- Posted by Disgusted on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 2:59 PM

I second Disgusted.

-- Posted by LauraSFT on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 3:02 PM

I agree . . . it's good to know about a burglary in the neighborhood so people can be more aware in case it happens again. The person's name really isn't important and could be left out but the location definitely needs to be reported so everyone else can be warned.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 3:05 PM

I don't feel everything that is Public record needs to be published in the newspaper. Most of what is published now is just there so people can gossip about who got a speeding ticket or who got a divorce.

Although burglarized homes probably need to be published saying what area they are in but there is no reason what so ever to publish the name of the victim or the amount of the stolen property.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 3:17 PM

Good points, but what would you do differently if you knew a home in your neighborhood was robbed? Hopefully you are already locking your doors (home and car) at all times, watching your kids, keeping valuables out of your car, looking for suspicious behavior in the neighborhood, etc.? A good neighbor, out of courtesy, should let friends know of their unfortunate event...word gets around in subdivisions. The whole town doesn't need to know, and I certainly don't believe the paper is doing it for such noble purposes. Cynically yours,

-- Posted by nmonajjem on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 3:27 PM

I probbaly wouldn't do much different except be sure the alarm was set everytime I leave the house. I don't always lock my car when setting in the drive but I would if I knew someone was in the area breaking into cars.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 4:00 PM

probbaly = probably

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 4:01 PM

Maybe not the name and exact address, but a street name would at least be nice. I just learned about a burglary here in BB on Monday night, from the victim, that I hadn't heard of before that. It's really none of my business that they were broken into, but I would like to know about these things that are close to my home.

-- Posted by Thom on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 11:37 PM

Actually, it is good for it to be posted in the paper because someone may know the robber or may come across the items stolen and let the police know or give them information.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 7:39 AM

In the 80's the house I was living in was broken into, it was published in the paper my name included. It didn't bother me, and don't know why anyone would have a problem with it. Being informed about what goes on around you is never a bad thing. I moved because I never felt safe there again, and to this day won't put nice jewelry in a jewelry box. I hide all the small expenise things in wierd places, so if someone breaks in they will have a hard time finding it.

If I felt the burglary was a inside job (family, friends) and would not want to press charges, I wouldn't report it to the police in the first place.

-- Posted by wahoo on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 8:26 AM

I believe that it should be up to the victim. I think they should be asked if they want their name and address in the paper..Then on the other hand if the address is listed without the persons name then maybe someone may read it and say hey I was in that area around that time and I saw some people or a car in that area at that time that seemed odd.As far as the people seeing a police car in your drive way well i don't think anyone needs to explain anything that goes on in your home or your yard since they do not pay your bills ...The victim came go to the people later if he knows them and tell them if he wants to that he was robbed and they should make sure their home is locked up when they leave..

-- Posted by rebelrose on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 8:40 AM

I don't think the name of a victim or their exact address needs to be published. Can't you just go with "a home on the 1900 block of Maple Street" as an identifier? My main fear is that people who don't want to be recognized, such as victims of domestic violence who are trying to keep their abuser from finding them, can be found though something as innocent as having their name and address appear in the paper.

-- Posted by cubicalgirl on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 3:04 PM

I agree with cubicalgirl.

Years ago, my brother had his booming speakers stolen from his truck.

Dad didn't want it in the paper because he thought that was an advertisment for another thief to come back and get the replacements.

-- Posted by mmp84 on Sat, Apr 26, 2008, at 9:16 AM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.