Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Being accused isn't enough for Dover Police

Dover (Delaware) Police will begin posting a weekly roll call of persons charged with shoplifting starting August first.  In addition to being posted on the Dover Police website, the weekly roster will also be shared with other social media outlets as with all other press releases. 

Let's go pre-Internet days, first, before we analyze the blatant disregard for the law and the Constitution.  If a local police department wanted to fight a growing problem, let's say shoplifting, they could print out a weekly roster of those arrested and distribute the posters to all the merchants in the area.  Odds are managers and employees may glance at the roster, maybe even post it until the next week's roster came out or the bulletin board got filled, and then pitch the poster in the trash.  Most people wouldn't object to the police efforts on two grounds.  First, arrest records are public information and all the police are doing is alerting merchants of potential problem customers in an effort to reduce crime.  Second, a very small audience receives the information and once the posters are pitched, all is forgotten.

Now let's look at what the Dover Police are doing today. 

Dover Police hope to shame shoplifting suspects.  From their own website "...and suspects will think twice before stealing merchandise in fear that their name and photo will be shared with the public."  Public shaming is a form of punishment despite the fact the suspects have not had their day in court and proven to be guilty.

Another goal, as stated on their website, is to "[lessen] the ability of suspects to sell/trade stolen goods for illegal drugs or money. By sharing this information, merchants, pawn shops, secondary markets (auctions/flea markets/online classifieds), and the general public will be aware of the possibility that items they purchase may have been stolen."  Hold on, there, partner!  They are suspects, not guilty criminals.  If a suspect is found not guilty in the court of law, will you start a weekly roster publicly apologizing to those whom you have casually linked to stolen goods and illegal drugs?

Shaming those arrested and charged with a crime isn't anything new.  What is new is the Internet.  Once something finds its way to the Internet, it's on the Internet forever. 

Public court records available on the Internet will show the charge, the court motions, the verdict, and punishment if the verdict was guilty.  If the accused has his record expunged, the public court records will show nothing of the charge nor outcome of the case because there is no record.

Because once something is on the Internet, it's on the Internet forever, the accused will always be known as a shoplifter despite what the public court record may show, if it shows anything at all.  He's guilty today, will be guilty tomorrow, and will still be guilty fifty years from now because that information will be stored on at least one server somewhere.

The problem of record permanence on the Internet raises a serious ethical question.  Even though arrest records and court proceedings are a matter of public record, should they be posted on the Internet?  An even bigger question is should we redefine what should be considered public information?

Pre-Internet days, it would take one private individual years to learn everything possible about another individual.  Today, armed with only knowing a person's name, current state of residence, and approximate age, a private individual only needs about a half hour of time and good Internet search skills to learn the same information that used to take years.

Here's an example of a five minute search on my sister: how much she paid for her house and how much her property taxes are (gives me an idea of how much she makes per year), how much she donated to a run to fight breast cancer, and I even discovered a wedding she attended several decades ago as the ring bearer - a wedding I must've attended, too, but have long since forgotten about.  All that I learned just by typing her name in Google.  Imagine how much more I could learn if I dug further through sites like the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website or searched DMV records or started searches on her husband to infer more about her home life.

Or I could simply pay an online company as little as ten bucks to learn all that, and lots more, probably right down to her work schedule and the car she drives.

Scary, huh?  Especially if I were the criminal type or stalker.

But let's get back to the Dover Police and the reasons they decided to create the weekly roster of accused shoplifters.  Dover Police want to publicly shame the accused and casually link them to illegal drugs and stolen goods by inference - all without due process of law.  The police are guilty of slander against the accused unless, in addition to the charge of shoplifting, the accused is also charged with a drug offense and stolen goods offense. 

If the accused is found not guilty, Dover Police are in real hot water.  Not only have they slandered the accused by inference of the stated purpose of the Weekly Roster of Shame, but, because of the permanence of Internet records, have convicted the accused without due process.  While the court record may show "not guilty" or even be expunged, the Weekly Roster of Shame will tell future employers, supervisors, and coworkers another story.  The roster has the potential to seriously affect one's future career opportunities and future career growth because of the misinterpretation of a crime they never committed.
Ok, maybe this should land one on a sex offenders list

Just like peeing behind an oak tree can land one on the sex offenders list for life in at least thirteen states, Dover Police have now decided that being accused of a crime should follow you for the rest of your life if, for no other reason, than you have to be guilty of something, even if your not guilty of what they charged you with.

For the too long; didn't read people:

Dover Police have decided to create a Weekly Roster of Shame, a roster displaying pictures of those accused of shoplifting during the week, and will be posted on the Internet and social media outlets.  The roster indirectly links the accused with illegal drug use and trafficking of stolen goods.  In effect, Dover Police have created a type of sex offenders list that will follow the accused around for the rest of his life, even if he was never guilty of shoplifting.  It really is the same thing as the guy who pees behind an oak tree and ends up on a sex offenders list for the rest of his life.

What you can do:
If you believe the Dover Police should abandon their public shaming program, you can message the department directly or call the Chief of Police at 302-736-7100, the Deputy Chief at 302-736-7101, and the Operations Commander at 302-736-7102. 

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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