Opinion: WEHOville’s Publication of Local Arrests Can Cause More Harm Than Good

arrest watch

Recently WEHOville made a decision to publish arrest records, which are available to it as a matter of public record.  This is absolutely within the role of the free press.  However, this is a nuanced matter which I believe needs to be filtered through what I call the can vs. ought prism.  I believe this was the wrong journalistic call by WEHOville because I believe there is no compelling public benefit served by publishing this raw data.

Sometimes journalism and journalists get it wrong.  Sometimes the institution errs on broad editorial policy, and sometimes the individuals engaged in the business of journalism misreport on context and facts.   Good journalism corrects the record either when further reporting unearths additional context and facts, or when they just plain got it wrong.  I believe that the First Amendment protects the rights of the free press to get it wrong (in the absence of slander or libel) as long as it owns up to the factual and contextual errors on the record.

Some years ago when I was managing a law firm I had the opportunity to get to know the leadership at The Innocence Project, which was a phenomenal eye-opener for me.  Sometimes the justice system gets it wrong and this is a critical consideration when news outlets publish vast troves of information that pre-empts the innocent until proven guilty premise in our system.  It is highly unlikely that the same outlets that publish this bulk data will update their stories when cases are dismissed, or when not-guilty verdicts are reached, or any disposition other than guilty is achieved.

The French have a beautiful term, “le droit a loubli,” which refers to the right to be forgotten.  The internet is overstocked with trivial and useless information that might or might not be accurate, or have relevance that rises to the level of reportable. France and the European Union have battled tech giants for years to purge much of this irrelevant and outdated information that wrongly plagues its citizens’ reputations for decades.

What I do find useful on WEHOville is the Crime Blotter, which charts information on what crimes occur, where, and importantly at what time.  It is concerning to me as a long-time resident of West Hollywood that assaults are occurring on a regular basis in my neighborhood during daylight hours, or indeed any hours.  It is an inconvenient truth to the image of West Hollywood, but it is responsible and fair and indeed true.

WEHOville fills a void in West Hollywood through its tough reporting on the goings-on in city government, and does so famously without fear or favor, as it should.  It is oftentimes painfully clear that official West Hollywood would rather not be subjected to the accountability of the Fourth Estate.  I am bothered by the Trump Administration attacks on the free press, and I’d be equally bothered if the same undemocratic influence was attempted from West Hollywood City Hall.

I look forward to WEHOville continuing its noble mission, without fear or favor, but with an eye to the nuances of relevance.  In this case, because it can does not mean it ought.  


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Meagan M.
Guest
Meagan M.

As a criminal defense attorney, while I understand the public desire for such information, it is unfortunately rare that people view such information through the lens of the constitutional premise that those who have been arrested are in fact innocent until proven guilty. Until we can rightfully view arrested people as innocent people, the dissemination of information like this often leads to assumptions. As I have argued many times, assumptions do not equal proof beyond a reasonable doubt! Great article!

Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

Agreed. We can never have too much integrity in journalism.

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin

If you read the arrest list you will note that anyone listed can request that his or her name be removed. Some of the arrests listed show a disturbing pattern of alleged violent behavior. Of course I understand that a a criminal defense lawyer wants to protect someone.’s reputation. Thats what you are paid to do.

Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

Beyond the comment regarding “a criminal defense lawyer wants to protect someone’s reputation”, innocent folks can be falsely arrested. The last thing on their mind would undoubtedly be whether or not their name and details will appear in some local media or beyond. Many folks listed can be involved in patterns of disturbing behavior but are you to suggest that residents would normally scan the arrest records to become their own investigator or vigilante? Normal crime blotter reports do well to alert folks but the original report generated a few weeks ago, to which this article responds, seems excessive.

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin

It is typical of those that have been published in newspapers and on hyperlocal news sites across the country for decades, including the Beerly Hills Weekly. People are sometimes found “not guilty” of the crimes they were arrested for. However “not guilty” does not mean “innocent.” Research shows that “false” arrests are extremely rare.

Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

Just because others do does not make it wise. Please take the high road, the gate is open.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Frankly, as someone who lives in WeHo and had my own negative experience with a mistaken arrest, I find this new initiative by WEHOville to be repugnant. An arrest today is not what it was twenty years ago. It has become a scarlet letter that will follow you around for life, regardless of whether you committed a crime. In America, you are innocent until proven guilty. Lots of people are arrested and have their charges dismissed, are acquitted by a jury or never charged because the cops got it wrong. These people are innocent in the eyes of the law.… Read more »

Art Scotti
Guest
Art Scotti

Agreed! Well said.

JF1
Guest
JF1

Pluh-eez. Publication of local arrests, the Sheriff’s Dept. Crime blotter…keep publishing them! It’s good for the community to know what’s going on out there.

Joshua88
Guest
Joshua88

I think it is a fine decision.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Great editorial!

Alison Laurie
Guest
Alison Laurie

I agree with Mr. Strasburg on this issue. As he mentioned The Innocence Project in the piece, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am currently holding a Birthday Fundraiser on Facebook for them. Please feel free to visit my page to contribute.