POLICY CORNER: When we name and how we describe crime suspects
One of the more ticklish policies facing news media deals with the identification of suspects of crime. It's something readers question from time to time. And it's something that has evolved over the years.
It's a policy in many parts:
• We do not identify crime suspects unless it is clear they are about to be charged or there is some other compelling reason to do so. Deciding whether there is a compelling enough reason falls to me, and I'm loath to put us in a position of damaging someone's reputation or inviting a lawsuit if we're wrong.
• We identify those charged by name and address using the block number and town only. We don't provide exact addresses, because we don't want to invite vandalism or worse. We make an exception to this rule when naming the suspect would identify the victim in a sex crime. We don't want to compound a sex crime victim's misery by naming him or her.
We strive for complete, meaningful descriptions of criminal suspects -- and that includes race.
Why? I remember years ago in the days when we rarely mentioned race, we broached the subject with a group of suburban police chiefs. They urged us to start including race in complete descriptions because it added to the likelihood that a reader might be able to help identify an offender.
However, we will not write that a person of a certain race is being sought unless we know what he or she was wearing, whether there were any notable tattoos or scars or hair color or facial hair or ... you get the picture. Race is only one part of a much more specific set of visual clues.
Furthermore, unless someone's citizenship or lack thereof is integral to the story, you will rarely see it in a Daily Herald crime story.