Policy change cuts Police Beat names
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 15:10
The Miami Student will no longer publish names in the Police Beat column, effective immediately.
The Police Beat has been an integral part of the Community section and the newspaper as a whole. The Miami Student staff has concluded that the withholding of names is appropriate.
Local attorney Susan Lipnickey said published Police Beats present a problem when one has sealed his or her record.
“[When one’s criminal record is sealed] one can report ‘I don’t have a criminal record,’ because that’s what a sealing allows you to say,” Lipnickey said. “And then people do background checks and say ‘What do you mean? It says here you were charged with x, y and z.’”
Lipnickey said she has dealt with numerous cases in which someone with a sealed record is still plagued by the publication and accessibility of a Police Beat regarding their case and containing their name.
“We’ve had to help them write letters to their employers explaining what a sealing is and how only certain people are eligible to seal their records and there are some criminal charges that you can’t seal,” Lipnickey said. “But the majority of incidents that are reported in the police beat are sealable offenses because they’re mostly tied to things like possession of marijuana, alcohol related offenses.”
The Miami Student publishes online Police Beat content in a way that prevents one from searching a suspect by name. However, according to Lipnickey, the problem remains. Sometimes the story is picked up by other students on Facebook or other media outlets, which has occurred in the past, one story being published on the Huffington Post.
There was a time when The Miami Student’s Police Beat column included a suspect’s name and his or her address, including residence hall and room number if applicable. Lipnickey said she sees such exposure as counterproductive, especially when those exposed are students.
“We have students who are here to go to law school, medical school – to go somewhere – and they made a mistake because they held a beer on High Street before classes started; they just turned 18,” Lipnickey said. “It’s a crime in the state of Ohio, but does that mean they should have their right to have their record sealed taken away? And that’s essentially how I see it.”
According to Lipnickey, a majority of student offenders make one mistake and then learn their lesson. Yet, that lesson continues to follow them through a time in their life in which they are trying to make a name for themselves and find a job.
According to Lipnickey, diversion programs, in which students have the opportunity to attend a class, pay their costs and have their charges dismissed, embrace an understanding that college students make mistakes.
Also, Lipnickey said the Police Beat may be incomplete or inaccurate since it is published so soon after an arrest has been made. According to Lipnickey, misunderstandings of identity or circumstance may not be resolved until after a report has been written.
However, despite the legal and personal inconveniences of having one’s name published in the Police Beat, one Oxford Police Department (OPD) officer said he sees the threat of a published Police Beat as proper deterrent to common crime.
“The one thing people worry about is the Police Beat,” OPD Sgt. Gregory Moore said.
Moore, clarifying that he spoke as an individual and not on the behalf of OPD, said publishing names in the Police Beat does a public service.
“It’s integrity, it’s personal accountability and it’s deterrence,” Moore said.
Moore cited a case in which he met in the rear of Walmart to arrest a suspect who had been accused of theft and detained. Moore said the suspect’s primary concern was being escorted through the store, as she didn’t want to be recognized by fellow shoppers. According to Moore, this fear of embarrassment is powerful and he anticipates a lack of accountability would stem from the removal of such fear.
“I have no remorse for someone breaking the law,” Moore said.
Though charges may be dropped, Moore said nothing can undo circumstantial facts. The facts are still the same, according to Moore, and the outcome of a case doesn’t change the fact that a person was arrested.
“A person’s name in the Police Beat is not placed there in a malicious fashion,” Moore said. “It is a stating of facts of circumstance. It doesn’t state that a crime was committed.”
Analyzing the Police Beat column ultimately ends in a question of its purpose. If not its purpose, its effect: however interpreted.
Leslie Haxby McNeill, assistant director of substance abuse and peer education in Miami’s office of student wellness, said she views the Police Beat as a glamorization of crime.
“Some of the students involved have had some very negative consequences,” McNeill said. “At one level, for some people, [the Police Beat is] funny. For me, it calls attention to and glamorizes some serious consequences to embarrassing events.”
McNeill said, perhaps even with anonymity, some students may view the publishing of their incidents as a mark of pride.
“For some people, it may feel shameful; for others, it’s a badge of honor,” McNeill said. “I’ve had students that have said, ‘yeah, I’m that guy.’ It gives them a sort of notoriety.”
According to McNeill, the Police Beats, rather than foster a sense of accountability as claimed by Moore, create an atmosphere more accepting to a drinking culture, which can be harmful to students.