When Are Police Arrests Newsworthy?

attribution to Flickr user: Stavos 25 Feb. 2014 https://flic.kr/p/kLthtr
Attribution to Flickr user: Stavos 25 Feb. 2014

The Dahlonega Nugget, a weekly newspaper, gives prime space to a fixture feature: Arrest Reports. A visiting professor from England recently scoffed to me about this feature. He noted the bulleted crime events and the names of those arrested as “hokey,” low-grade, and low-brow. “Where’s the news here,” he asked.

I admit to having skimmed through and past these reports from the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office without taking them too seriously. Having grown up in a very large city, I was first a bit baffled by the “naming of names” and the list of crimes that were considered worthy of note. Were the people identified by name in order to embarrass them or to shame their families? Why would anyone really care that on November 20 John Smith failed to maintain his lane while DUI? Or that on November 22 Jane Doe was charged with theft by shoplifting? Everyone knows these crimes occur every day in every city in America. Are drunk driving and shoplifting newsworthy? Or are any of the other crimes listed, which this week include violating probation, burglary-forced entry, driving without a license, speeding, possessing marijuana, theft by taking, and battery?

One of these listed crimes made the front page of this week’s Nugget. No, it was not the battery or the theft by taking. Rather, it was the burglary-forced entry. According to the headline, this crime was a “Bungled burglary.” The criminal, named and photographed, failed a getaway because he backed into a ditch near the home he had just burgled. And then he asked neighbors for help. Besides the inept burglar’s name, the investigating officer is named in the article.

None of the officers or deputies are named in the Arrest Reports feature.  That omission made me more aware of our county’s criminal justice system more than I had ever been before, really.  And even though officers aren’t named, their actions are clearly related for all to see and review. Every week. Every single day of every week.

One of the recommendations made in the 2015 President’s Task Force on Policing in the 21st Century was to build trust between the police force and community. And one of the recommended means of doing so was to establish a culture of transparency and accountability.

This weekly feature on Arrest Reports seems to me to be a way of doing that. And that’s not hokey at all.

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