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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    EDITORIAL: Police Beat section just as legal as public records

    It seems like every couple of months, the Arizona Daily Wildcat newsroom receives a phone call about its Police Beat section.

    Usually, the caller is someone who has recognized himself or herself in a Police Beat brief and, understandably, hopes to have the Police Beat entry unpublished. Occasionally, the caller is also someone who thinks that threatening to sue is the most persuasive course of action.

    More often than not, he or she ends up disappointed by the conversation.

    That’s not the intent, of course. It isn’t the Daily Wildcat’s goal to make every person featured in Police Beat feel bad about whatever they did Friday night.

    However, everything that runs in the newspaper is the result of a deliberate editorial decision, including the stories in Police Beat. We keep publishing the stories, as we are well within the bounds of our journalistic obligations and our legal right to do so.

    Like the fine print at the bottom of each Police Beat section reads, the section is compiled each day from police reports filed by the University of Arizona Police Department. These reports are all public records, open and available for reading by the Daily Wildcat staff and anyone else, including you.

    Our First Amendment freedoms, which guarantee our right to make our own editorial decisions without fear of something like a lawsuit filed by some kid’s mom’s lawyer, are just the cherry on the sundae.

    Legally then, there is no invasion of privacy when the Wildcat prints accounts based on police reports.

    The ethics of it can be a bit fuzzier. We recognize that just because information is public doesn’t mean it always has to be published. In Police Beat and any other story, the reporter and editors must weigh the story’s subject’s right to privacy against the story’s news value.

    That regard for other people’s privacy is why the Daily Wildcat rarely publishes names in the Police Beat section.

    In the same way the Wildcat and pretty much all other media outlets refuse to print the names of sexual assault victims, the decision to leave names out of Police Beat is an ethical one made not with the law in mind, but out of respect to the people involved.

    After all, it’s not like anyone on staff genuinely believes that one minor-in-possession citation you received when you were 19 should be the first result when your name is Googled.

    But here’s the rub: The editorial decisions made by Wildcat editors are only made by members of the Wildcat.

    Omitting the name of some freshman found vomiting outside one of the residence halls is not something that freshman is legally entitled to. Instead, omitting names in Police Beat is a courtesy extended by the Wildcat’s editorial policy.

    But it isn’t our job to shield readers from uncomfortable topics, and no one will check to make sure whatever runs in Police Beat was cool with the subject’s parents.

    So before you get into a drunken shouting match overheard by a UAPD officer, consider this: once the report is written and filed, the information is accessible. It isn’t private, and it’s free to any reporter and the general public.

    If you recognize yourself in a Police Beat story, regardless of whether or not your name is in it, no number of angry phone calls and threats to sue will intimidate the Daily Wildcat into retracting the information. It was already available anyway.

    — Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat editorial board and written by one of its members. They are Dan Desrochers, Kristina Bui, K.C. Libman and Sarah Precup. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions

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