News

Mountain View Voice changes policy on naming people who are arrested

Publisher: With internet, reports of arrests linger for years

Concerned about the lasting impact that online search engines have on individuals arrested for crimes, the Mountain View Voice and its sister papers are implementing new policies regarding when the names and photos of arrestees will be published.

The new policy, posted here, states that, except in limited instances, news stories will not name those arrested until they are formally charged by the county's District Attorney.

"We have become increasingly concerned about the unfairness of stories naming people arrested for crimes remaining on the internet forever," Voice Publisher Bill Johnson said.

"Not only is an arrest not a conviction, but it is only an initial and often over-stated allegation against a person. What a person is booked for is often reduced by the District Attorney's Office and in some cases not prosecuted at all," he said.

"There is also an unfair, disproportionate effect on those with unusual names, since an internet search for an unusual name is much more likely to display a story on the arrest high in search results than if the person has a common name," he said.

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The policy cites four exceptions in which the name of an arrested person will be named in a news story:

• The arrestee is a prominent person in the community, a public safety employee or a school employee.

• The arrest was for a major violent crime.

• The arrest was the result of an extended police or FBI investigation.

• In the judgment of the editor, the crime was widely reported and is of broad public interest or concern.

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In a story on an arrest, however, the Mountain View Voice Online will include a link to a law-enforcement agency's press release and booking photos, when available.

The new policy also describes the stance of the Voice's parent company, Embarcadero Media, on reporting about sexual crimes and the circumstances under which an arrestee's name will be published. The policy extends to the Voice's sister publications, the Palo Alto Weekly and the Almanac.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen endorsed the policy change.

"Transparency is one of this office's core values. Another one is integrity. The ... new policy, crafted around the fact that an arrest is not a charge, has both. We proudly share a mission of responsibly balancing privacy rights and the public's right to know," he said in a statement.

Molly O'Neal, Santa Clara County public defender, saw the new policy as a good step, but she said she hopes it would go further.

"It is commendable that you've changed the policy, although the link to law enforcement's release of the name means the policy change may not have the actual impact you intend," she said in an email to the Palo Alto Weekly, suggesting that the link could be omitted or the press release reposted with arrested person's name redacted.

"It certainly does impact people's lives to have arrests listed when no charges have been filed," O'Neal said.

Police departments are the usual agencies that distribute names and booking photos of arrestees to the media; district attorney's offices occasionally publish the information after someone has been charged with a crime in a high-profile case or after a lengthy investigation, such as when 16 people were arrested and charged for gang-related violent crimes in the Operation Sunny Day case in San Mateo County.

The new policy about arrestees' names was developed over several months, together with another policy, posted here, concerning when names in archived online content will be removed or edited.

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Mountain View Voice changes policy on naming people who are arrested

Publisher: With internet, reports of arrests linger for years

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 20, 2017, 9:50 am

Concerned about the lasting impact that online search engines have on individuals arrested for crimes, the Mountain View Voice and its sister papers are implementing new policies regarding when the names and photos of arrestees will be published.

The new policy, posted here, states that, except in limited instances, news stories will not name those arrested until they are formally charged by the county's District Attorney.

"We have become increasingly concerned about the unfairness of stories naming people arrested for crimes remaining on the internet forever," Voice Publisher Bill Johnson said.

"Not only is an arrest not a conviction, but it is only an initial and often over-stated allegation against a person. What a person is booked for is often reduced by the District Attorney's Office and in some cases not prosecuted at all," he said.

"There is also an unfair, disproportionate effect on those with unusual names, since an internet search for an unusual name is much more likely to display a story on the arrest high in search results than if the person has a common name," he said.

The policy cites four exceptions in which the name of an arrested person will be named in a news story:

• The arrestee is a prominent person in the community, a public safety employee or a school employee.

• The arrest was for a major violent crime.

• The arrest was the result of an extended police or FBI investigation.

• In the judgment of the editor, the crime was widely reported and is of broad public interest or concern.

In a story on an arrest, however, the Mountain View Voice Online will include a link to a law-enforcement agency's press release and booking photos, when available.

The new policy also describes the stance of the Voice's parent company, Embarcadero Media, on reporting about sexual crimes and the circumstances under which an arrestee's name will be published. The policy extends to the Voice's sister publications, the Palo Alto Weekly and the Almanac.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen endorsed the policy change.

"Transparency is one of this office's core values. Another one is integrity. The ... new policy, crafted around the fact that an arrest is not a charge, has both. We proudly share a mission of responsibly balancing privacy rights and the public's right to know," he said in a statement.

Molly O'Neal, Santa Clara County public defender, saw the new policy as a good step, but she said she hopes it would go further.

"It is commendable that you've changed the policy, although the link to law enforcement's release of the name means the policy change may not have the actual impact you intend," she said in an email to the Palo Alto Weekly, suggesting that the link could be omitted or the press release reposted with arrested person's name redacted.

"It certainly does impact people's lives to have arrests listed when no charges have been filed," O'Neal said.

Police departments are the usual agencies that distribute names and booking photos of arrestees to the media; district attorney's offices occasionally publish the information after someone has been charged with a crime in a high-profile case or after a lengthy investigation, such as when 16 people were arrested and charged for gang-related violent crimes in the Operation Sunny Day case in San Mateo County.

The new policy about arrestees' names was developed over several months, together with another policy, posted here, concerning when names in archived online content will be removed or edited.

Comments

A Talking Cat
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2017 at 10:30 am
A Talking Cat, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 20, 2017 at 10:30 am

What a great change. Happy to see this!


Jeff
Old Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm
Jeff, Old Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm

It is good to see editorial sensitivity to the desired balance while still maintaining the importance of publishing names in certain contexts. Will you duly report names when/if related charges are filed?

The public defender's notion that names should be redacted from official press releases, and links to such avoided, is misguided. True, these are offsets to the intention, but this is official material released in the public interest. It is not the purview of the press to edit or censor such information rather it is their duty to publish it or cite it. The salient question here is, what should the police department be releasing, under what circumstances?


Barb J
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2017 at 5:13 pm
Barb J, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2017 at 5:13 pm

I find it appalling that people who are arrested are named at all. As it states in the article, an arrest is not a conviction. I have heard the argument that, "Well - police don't arrest someone without a good reason" and "Where there's smoke, there's fire" and blah-blah, but job applications these days do NOT ask, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" They ask, "Have you ever been arrested?" This is discriminatory both racially and economically.


Bob
Slater
on Oct 20, 2017 at 6:06 pm
Bob, Slater
on Oct 20, 2017 at 6:06 pm

I agree with Barb 3 on the following;
"The arrestee is a prominent person in the community, a public safety employee or a school employee." why set these people apart? The old saying that "you can't un-ring a bell" holds true here. I feel that only after a conviction should the names be released to the public, otherwise it will, and has become trial by media and gossip. Let's protect the innocent until they are proven guilty.


Gary
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Oct 21, 2017 at 11:49 am
Gary, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Oct 21, 2017 at 11:49 am

Suppose President Trump were arrested in Mountain View, it would be a story. Trump would deny any wrongdoing, of course. He might claim it stems from a vast left-wing conspiracy. Vladimir Putin could chime in - agreeing that his fellow despot may well have been framed. The point: even when there is only an arrest, the arrest and the arrestee may be fully newsworthy. If a school employee were just arrested for molestation, should the newspaper wait until there is a charge or conviction or a conviction affirmed after an appeal? No. In many instances,the public should be told about even just credible allegations against public employees. Or against a private child care provider. Or a nursing home. Before your child or aged father is the next victim.


Ted
North Bayshore
on Oct 21, 2017 at 9:07 pm
Ted, North Bayshore
on Oct 21, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Making fun of Trump, I see. He deserves it.


Name hidden
Rex Manor

on Oct 21, 2017 at 9:18 pm
Name hidden, Rex Manor

on Oct 21, 2017 at 9:18 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Robyn
another community
on Oct 23, 2017 at 4:11 pm
Robyn, another community
on Oct 23, 2017 at 4:11 pm

This is good. I agree that only after a conviction should the accused's name be released or printed.
Otherwise, why not be fair and name the accuser? There are many circumstances where people lie to the police to gain an advantage. This is so in many divorce proceedings.


Patrick
Rengstorff Park
on Oct 24, 2017 at 8:50 am
Patrick, Rengstorff Park
on Oct 24, 2017 at 8:50 am

Thank you for doing this!


Greg David
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Oct 27, 2017 at 12:23 pm
Greg David, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Either do it or don't.

The four exceptions listed simply make you hypocrites. Why is any one person more entitled to have their name redacted than anyone else? You said it yourself. An arrest is not a conviction. Regardless of the person or the severity of the crime, you are possibly defaming that person until they are convicted in a court of law by a jury of their peers.


Thumbs up
Rex Manor
on Oct 27, 2017 at 12:49 pm
Thumbs up, Rex Manor
on Oct 27, 2017 at 12:49 pm

If possible, go through archives and apply this policy for cases where the person was not later charged.

This will have real impact. I know that Google cache exists and it will take some time for the change to be felt.


Falls Short
Cuernavaca
on Nov 1, 2017 at 3:47 pm
Falls Short, Cuernavaca
on Nov 1, 2017 at 3:47 pm

While this is a nice start, the policy falls way short with its exception of "prominent members of the community".

First, that leaves a lot of wiggle room to include a wide range of folks.

But more importantly, unless that "prominent" person poses an imminent safety threat, as opposed to a titillating or salacious news story, that "prominent" person deserves the same fairness and privacy as any other citizen. And in fact, that "prominent" person could suffer an even more harmful fate that a non-"prominent" person, as this news would be more likely to travel far and wide.


Except when it gets tough
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm
Except when it gets tough, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm

It5's hard to stand on principles isn't it MV Voice? I support your efforts, but it looks like when it's a teacher at the local HS, out him right away. if it comes out as a bogus charge, well, these things can't be helped.

Snark aside, I would like to see the Voice's explanation of why they so quickly violated this new policy in the case of the recent MVHS math teacher.


Andrea Gemmet
Registered user
Mountain View Voice Editor
on Nov 7, 2017 at 3:22 pm
Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Here's the relevant portion of our policy that explains why the suspect was named in this case:

There are some exceptions, all of which are subject to our editorial judgment: the arrestee is a public figure, a public safety or school employee; the arrest was for a major "violent" crime; the arrest was the result of an extended police or FBI investigation; or, as decided by the editor, the crime is of broad public interest or concern.

You can read our full policy at Web Link


What's in a name
Blossom Valley
on Nov 9, 2017 at 2:50 pm
What's in a name , Blossom Valley
on Nov 9, 2017 at 2:50 pm

I agree w the MV Voice policy


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