From the editor: The case of the disappearing jail report
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “Where is the jail report?” is a question I’ve been fielding all week, and so I thought I’d explain why I chose to suspend this longstanding column.
The decision was not made lightly. It was something we’ve been debating as a news team for a while now, and I finally determined that ending the weekly reporting of arrests was the right thing to do.
Arrest records are a matter of public record, and this newspaper was within its rights to publish the information. I was able to justify printing the report because I believed, and still believe, that it served as a deterrent to people who might be thinking about getting behind the wheel after having a few drinks.
In other words, the fear of having their name appear in the weekly list of arrests would give them pause and motivate them to find another way home. And I’m sure there were many times when this was the case.
The jail report also served as a reflection of some of the social ills facing our community, showing that even though we live in a gorgeous ski town it is not a paradise without problems.
We routinely received calls from local citizens pleading with us to reconsider our “all-or-none” policy although we never complied. But my decision to suspend the jail report had nothing to do with pressure from the public and those who didn’t want to see their name in the paper. Instead, it was a decision based on fairness and a reassessment about the value of publishing the list of names week in and week out.
For a number of reasons, we have never been able to follow up on every arrest with a report on the case’s disposition. So we published people’s names and a list of charges in print and online but we rarely reported on the outcome of the case. Oftentimes, the original charges were reduced or even dismissed, but that information was not reported in the newspaper.
Case dispositions are extremely hard to track over time. Arrests are sent to us every morning by the jail administrator, but court dispositions are not as easily accessible and often occur months after the initial arrest.
To continue reporting arrests and not dispositions seemed to stand in stark contrast to the basic tenet of our judicial system, which is founded on the principle of a person being innocent until proven guilty.
Going forward, we’ll continue to report on serious felony arrests and we are currently working with the local court system to find a way to report on case dispositions. When we find a way to do that, we could then choose to publish a list of names, charges and sentences following a conviction. We think that is the fair way to report on this type of information.
We also are in the process of removing prior jail reports from our digital archives.
If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me directly.
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