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One California Town May Post DUI Arrests to Facebook

BY Nick Judd | Friday, November 19 2010

Officials in one California city, faced with reporters and editors who have refused to run a list of people accused of driving drunk, have decided to publish the list themselves — on Facebook.

Faced with a local newspaper, the Huntington Beach Independent, that stopped publishing a list of people arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, the Huntington Beach City Council and police department are planning on posting the list to Facebook instead.

In a December 2009 editorial explaining their reasons for ending the list, the Independent's editors expressed concern that publishing a list of names and ages of people who are, in the end, still only suspects, in the era of Google, was overkill.

"The people on the list have been arrested but not convicted of anything. If any of them is later cleared of the offense, his or her name will still be readily available on a Google search, which poses a problem for background checks," the editors wrote.

Emphasizing that only publishing a list of alleged DUI offenders — as opposed to similar lists for shoplifters and the like — seemed arbitrary, they wrote that a simple list of names, ages and cities did not have the same potential to spur a witness to report a crime that the traditional police blotter might have. (The other crime reports in the Independent include more context.)

Welcoming public input, they ended with this: "... as for the drunk drivers in the community, we’ll say this: Now that we’re no longer going to shame you in public, you can repay our kindness by staying sober behind the wheel."

And so it was that the local paper decided that drivers accused of driving drunk would no longer be called out in print and online, ending a years-long cooperation with the town government. At any other moment in the country's history, that, perhaps, would have been that.

But today, the City Council — with a different set of principles and priorities than the paper — can take matters into its own hands, writes the LA Times' Tony Barboza:

Councilman Devin Dwyer asked police Monday during a City Council meeting if they would be willing to post the names of people arrested for drunk driving on the city's Facebook page, because the local newspaper has stopped publishing the listings.

"I didn't think public shaming for driving under the influence was such a bad idea," Dwyer said. "I would use any tool necessary to bring down the numbers of drunk drivers."

The idea is part of an aggressive anti-drunk-driving initiative by the city that calls for more officers focusing on DUI cases, posting the names of people arrested for drunk driving on the city website and sending letters to bars when one of their patrons is arrested for driving under the influence.

Is it responsible? Is it fair? Who knows! I asked the editor currently overseeing the Independent and several sister papers, John Canalis, and Dan Evans, who was interim editor at the Independent and its siblings when the DUI list was pulled — he's now Canalis' counterpart running several community papers in another part of the Los Angeles area — and neither seemed particularly willing to offer an opinion on the town's decision. (In our phone interview, Evans emphasized how unfair and arbitrary the DUI list was, and downplayed the "long tail" of an arrest record when exposed to the Internet.)

If the council in Huntington Beach proceeds with their plan, though, they may have just as much reach using Facebook as they did using the Independent: the weekly newspaper reports 11,000 online visitors and a circulation of 34,500 a month — 86,000 weekly readers total — while one Huntington Beach page on Facebook has over 41,000 fans.

Canalis' news staff are continuing to cover this issue, Canalis said.