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Naming names in police reports

By Howard B. Owens

They call it Monday Morning Quarterbacking -- questioning people who make judgment calls.

There's certainly been a good deal of Monday Morning Quarterbacking going on regarding our decision not to publish the name of a woman caught in a sex act in a public park late Friday afternoon. Some people agree, most are critical of the decision.

When a person makes a decision and doesn't listen to critics, he's considered stubborn and arrogant, or plain stupid for seemingly not listening to reason.

When a person responds to criticism and reverses course, he risks being seen as weak, as caving to public pressure.

The fact of the matter is, if we published the woman's name, there would be people who would be critical of the decision. They call it flip-flopping.

These are some of the no-win situations one faces when involved in a pursuit fraught with judgment calls.

In the end, the only analysis we make is to weigh our decision based on our established policies and past practices.

The Batavian has a policy of publishing the name of every individual arrested, detained or cited by local law enforcement when the name is released to the local media (exception being 17 and under charged with minor infractions and crimes).

(It's worth noting, not every arrest made by either the Sheriff's Office and the Batavia Police Department finds its way into a press release. I sometimes get private e-mails accusing us of showing favoritism because we didn't publicize this or that arrest, but we can't publish what we don't know about.)

In the past year, I've had to publish the name of a friend arrested on a pretty serious charge, and there have been at least two local business owners I know whose names have shown up in the "blotter" (as readers call it, though what we publish is not technically a blotter).

(One notable twist on the sex-in-the-park case: the Batavia PD did not initially release the name of the people involved. The Batavian called and requested the names and it was only after learning from the PD that the woman had children that we decided not to publish the name.)

The idea of having an "all names published" policy is to avoid a perception of favoritism.

Nobody should be able to call me up and successfully lobby to keep his or her name out of the Police Beat. If I do a favor for one person, then why not do a favor for any or all persons arrested?

On Friday morning, I got a call from a young woman who was upset because her name, age and street name were published in the Dave Matthews concert arrest report. She said she was worried about some rapist finding her.

My thought was, "there's lots of ways that some rapist could find you, not the least of which is your name appearing in an arrest report -- it's not my place to predict the consequences of the publication -- I don't have a crystal ball." Also, I thought, "I bet you're really more worried about your parents seeing it." But I didn't say anything more to her than, "Thanks for expressing your concern."

I consider publishing the reports of arrests, and the results of as many court cases as we can follow, to be an important public service. We don't do it to embarrass anybody. The power of the state to detain people is a power that should not go unchecked. It's important to keep tabs on what local law enforcement is doing, both to be as informed as possible and because a good deal of our tax dollars go to law enforcement.

After giving it much thought -- listening to our critics, talking with Billie, considering previous cases -- I've come to the conclusion that our decision Friday night not to publish the name was a mistake.

While I'd like to believe my intentions were noble, the larger consideration is that The Batavian simply shouldn't be in a position of playing favorites on arrest reports. By the standards of past practice, and the foreseeable complications that could arise in the future if we make exceptions, we should publish the name. It's not our place to try to predict the outcome of what publication might mean.

One thing I've learned from many years in journalism is that some of your decisions will be unpopular. Critics are everywhere. The only thing you can do is the best you can. You will make mistakes, but when you do make mistakes, the best thing to do is admit it, correct it and move on.

The previous post has been amended to include the woman's name.

Gabor Deutsch

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Jun 6, 2010, 1:51pm Permalink
Laura Scarborough

William you nailed my thoughts exactly. Howard, you actually care about the community you live in... keep up the good work. I was ok with or with out the name. The act taking place in a public place in "broad daylight" to quote the movie The Ringer, was the eyebrow raiser.

Jun 6, 2010, 3:39pm Permalink
bud prevost

Janice said " What bothered me more is that adultry is a crime. A crime against whom? "

Adultery is a crime against her husband and her family.

Jun 6, 2010, 5:03pm Permalink

I was surprised that Adultery is still a Criminal Offense, but I would assume it is still on the books legally because Marriage is still a legal status. You have to get a license, after all, to get married. I am not saying I agree or disagree, but to answer Janice's question I imagine it can be argued breach of contract, or just injurious to society's moral code. Possibly fraud as there are many benefits people could stay married for instead of doing the honorable thing and leave your spouse, at least more honorable by comparison.

Jun 6, 2010, 5:07pm Permalink
Roxanna Yaeger

For those of you who wanted all the juicy details. You need to get the beam outof your own eye. You are disgusting and I am thankful to God I left this backward, redneck, selfrightous town. Yes this means ALL of the so called poor and the elite. How dare you take the position of God in this case? ADULTERY? Half of the police force has enough crap going on in their own lives they should be arrested for if they can arrest someone for adultery. To bad the reporter didn't have the fortitude to tell you all to go back under your rocks. I suppose he is worried about his reputation or his job. Where are all the real men? The heros? Have you forgotten the real crime in this case? The indecent exposure that was in front of children? My God. I pity you all.

Jun 6, 2010, 6:23pm Permalink
Roxanna Yaeger

Adultry is not a crime it is a SIN and it is between her, her husband and God! Since when has the Batavia Police Department taken on that role? I mean the role of God? How arrogant and self rightous that officer is. I hope he in under conviction for his own sin till he repents adn asks for forgiveness because he needs it!!

Jun 6, 2010, 6:28pm Permalink
Michele Case

Howard, you made a sound decision to begin with. One that showed compassion towards the feelings of the innocent. I thought for sure as I read..."After much thought...our decision...not to publish the name..." would end with something like "in hindsight it really was the best thing and our decision still stands. But you caved to the pressure of those who gotta have the dirt. We can now rest assured that the joke is on her! HAHAHA, I hope the school counsellors are reading this too. Remember before the child labor laws were enacted? Think about alot of the changes (improvements) that have taken place over the years due to the study of psychology and sociology. Have we really become more civilized? So many comments were made that it was justified to print her name because the woman "probably" has embarrassed her children many times. Keep on a judging without knowing the facts. I do not know this you? Maybe her husband cheats on a daily basis or maybe he abuses her. I do not know him either, do you? She used bad judgement, so lets punish those children. We adults all know that kids aren't embarrased over things, and aren't supersensitive or anything. And we all know that other kids won't pick on them, right? I would hope I have instilled the right values in my children and they wouldn't act that way but I don't know as they are just children and from what I see here most adults aren't that mature. At least I am now aware that I speak for the minority...I thought more people felt the way I do, guess I was mistaken.

Jun 6, 2010, 6:30pm Permalink
Lori Silvernail

Howard, I thought you would have stuck to your initial decision as well, but it doesn't bother me that you changed your mind. You were in a lose/lose situation, and I admire the fact that you considered everything when coming to your decision.

The woman was old enough to know better than to have sex out in public and she will have to deal with the repercussions.

And to Roxanna Yaeger, why are people "disgusting" for wanting to know the offender's name? You sit behind your computer and easily pass judgement on Howard, the arresting officer, and readers of this site while making a feeble attempt to hide behind the Bible as if Jesus makes up all of the laws of the world.

Jun 6, 2010, 6:50pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Roxanna, I reject the notion that Batavia is a "backward, redneck, self-righteous town," at least that it's any different than where you are now. I've lived in many parts of the country, including San Diego and Ventura -- Batavia is no different. People are people, wherever you go.

Further, to blame this on the police is simply wrong. It is the job of the police to enforce the law as written. They don't get to decide which laws to enforce. If you don't like the law, your argument is with State Legislature, not the Batavia PD or the officer who made the arrest.

Michele, I think you make a good point when you express concern about people judging without knowing all the facts. But that cuts both ways. I can't judge without knowing the facts myself, and if I start playing favorites and withholding facts without knowing the full story, then am I not doing the same thing? It just really came down to treating everybody equally. In not doing that initially, I made a mistake. I know you think I caved to pressure, but my personal history isn't one of caving to pressure. The Batavian wouldn't exist if I were the kind of person to cave to criticism. In fact, I knew I would face that kind of accusation in making the decision to publish anyway and decided I'd just take my lumps if that's what people wanted to say.

I'm comfortable that the decision was made for sound reasons and not due to public pressure. The public criticism was sobering and I may not have given the issue a second thought without it, but that isn't why I decided I made a mistake.

Ironically, your situation -- which you alluded to in a previous post -- was a factor in my thinking. Your case came to my attention because a reader wrote and suggested that I and other local media were providing you with special treatment by not reporting your case. I simply didn't know about it until I got that e-mail. I want readers to know that we will do our best to report all cases that come to our attention fairly, honestly and accurately. In withholding the woman's name in this case, I was jeopardizing that credibility.

Jun 6, 2010, 7:00pm Permalink
George Richardson

Roxanna, you need to stay in the discussion. Please don't bail out. I still love Batavia because they got in my blood at birth, but I can relate.

Jun 6, 2010, 7:17pm Permalink

I would just like to clear two things up. I never made any claim of anyone having a "Moral Code". I was just trying to explain what the justification might be for the law might be and it didn't take must research to find that exact phrasing when explain states that still have Adultery Laws on the books. My second point to clear up is I think that Howard is doing a great job with this news source and had little problem with him withholding the name and clearly saw the logic behind releasing it. Keep up the outstanding reporting.

Jun 6, 2010, 8:17pm Permalink
Bob Price

Thank you for keeping everyone "informed" pretty much beat the other "online news source"(not the radio station) on everything.Granted,I was curious to know the name,but was fine w/ decision you made. I think you should either publish all names or none at all. I am sure this story will be talked about during the morning drive tomorrow in Rochester-heck,channel 4 even has this story on their local news section of their website.I think the people involved have just begun the humiliation part of their little "get-together" from last week.

Jun 6, 2010, 8:23pm Permalink
kevin kretschmer

There is also the very real possibility neither party will be "humiliated" at all. They were making no attempt to keep their rendezvous discreet after all. A sexual performance in broad daylight on a picnic table in a city park - I'm pretty sure they didn't care much about what other people might think.

Jun 6, 2010, 9:38pm Permalink
jonathan bell

howard its your choice what to write and what not to write if people dont like then read the boring daily news i love this website looked at it everyday in afghanistan and continue to do so its good to know what still goes on back home and not get filled with just hear say and gossip. Adultery is a serious offense if your in the military you get a dishonable discharge and wont be able to ever get a decent paying job or even a home loan ive seen it on 2 occasions. and if your not military and it goes on your crimal record there goes any federal job you ever thought about having. if you cant stay faithful to a person you "love" how can you stay faithful and loyal to an employer. adultery is lying and if i have one thing its not lying if you have to lie about something you should never have done it in the first place

Jun 7, 2010, 1:33am Permalink
Roxanna Yaeger

I think we need to agree to disagree. I lived all over California for 30 plus years and I continue to stand by my assessment.People in Lucerne Valley California in the Mojave are VERY different than the folks in Orick California which is 100 miles south of the Oregon Border. Different life styles, different political views, different life priorities and different values.

Folks in West Palm Beach where I lived are different that the folks in Boulder Colorado, where I have also lived

I still come to Batavia to serve the community in a way that values the people in it. However when it comes to living here I am glad I do not.

What ever happened to focusing on the issue at hand which was my real complaint. You caved Howard.You were right in the first place and then you caved.

Jun 7, 2010, 7:44am Permalink
Roxanna Yaeger

Well George you can rest assured I a m not an individual that gives up or gives in and anyone who knows me, knows that. I love this stuff and I am never afraid to express my opinion. I respect the opinions of others also. I still come to Batavia to serve the folks here in a way that really values who they are and what their needs are. i just choose not to live here any more. Once I moved back I remembered why I left:)I do not love any "place". I have lived all over the United States and this area is stuck for sure.....

Jun 7, 2010, 7:50am Permalink
Roxanna Yaeger

Ya know what you guys? I was walking around my home today thinking about this bantering and I think I am having toooooo much fun with this. It is an amazing way to express yourself. Yes you set yourself for other peoples indignation, anger, judgement but what fun this is. The article Howard wrote got everyone of us fired up and isn't that part of what appeals to all of us that reply? I think we should all get together and buy Howard lunch!! Can you even picture it? :)

Jun 7, 2010, 8:30am Permalink
Scott Grefrath

I believe the names should be released for two reasons. #1 there should be an "all crimes" policy with the exception being the rules concerning minors. breaking the law is public information and I believe the best part of publishing the names is the embarrassment it causes the individual which hopefully serves as a deterrent to them repeating this behavior and also it should cause others to "think twice" before doing something illegal.
#2 this couple showed they have no shame nor need for privacy. to do this out in the open in front of children is disgusting. they obviously did not care about privacy when they made the decision to go at it in a public place. come on, even high school kids aren't this silly. they could have done this at least in a car or a less public place.
As a person who has to live with the pain of adultery I am glad they got caught to bring the truth to light. The hardest part of the affair on me was all the lies and the deception. When the truth came out (via text message after 3.5 years) I actually felt more hurt and angry over the lies than the physical act.

Jun 7, 2010, 9:03am Permalink

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