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Editorial: Don't hide arrest info from citizens

Editorial: Don't hide arrest info from citizens

Lawmakers give cover to criminals at the expense of transparency
Editorial: Don't hide arrest info from citizens
Photographer: ShUTTERSTOCK

Interested to know if that creep they arrested for soliciting a teenager is the same guy you saw hanging outside your daughter’s school the other day? Too bad.

Want to know the name of that government official who got arrested in a corruption scam and what, if anything, he was charged with? MYOB.

One of the long-feared dangers of the state Legislature’s annual late-night budget-bill orgies is them slipping in some kind of anti-public, anti-transparency legislation without debate, and often without the knowledge of all lawmakers.

That’s what they’ve done this year by including in state budget legislation a provision that would ban the public disclosure of mugshots and booking information whenever police make arrests.

Law enforcement would have discretion over whether to release the information, presumably to suit their own efforts when they need the public’s help to locate a criminal suspect.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And this is no different.

Many times, the arrest records and photos of individuals remain online, even if the charges have been dropped. 

This law is designed to protect those people from having their identities revealed by private companies, which abuse the public records laws by securing the information and selling it back to individuals or blackmailing them.

The state’s solution, however, is not to go after the companies, as California has done, but rather to take away a longstanding right of citizens to know who is being arrested for crimes.

This giant leap toward secrecy is detrimental to public safety and opens the door for government officials to decide whose identity gets released and whose doesn’t.

Under this legislation, prominent, wealthy, well-connected members of society could make a few phone calls to the right government official and have junior’s identity kept from the press when he’s arrested for selling heroin.  

What about a close aide to a top public official who gets charged with taking bribes, or an influential campaign contributor whose company is caught trying to buy a state contract? Do you think any of this will be released?

No. But the name of the poor black kid charged with drug possession certainly might. Your DWI arrest might make the news, but the rich businessman’s DWI arrest might not. See why this is bad?

The solution to businesses selling information about arrests is to go after the companies, not to cut off the rest of us from information we’re entitled to know.

This bill should have been debated in the full light of public scrutiny. The fact that it wasn’t makes one wonder about its true intent.

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