September 12, 2008
Arrest Videos Help Inform the Public
By Mark L. Shurtleff
The world must be upside down. The ACLU and now the Deseret News (Sept. 8, editorial) are apparently against open government. This newspaper and the civil rights organization took me to task for showing the arrest of an alleged Internet predator. The arrest video is just one of numerous features we have added to our Web site (www.attorneygeneral.utah.gov) to help inform the public.
I agree with the editorial that I should be concerned that every person receives a fair trial. I am. The courts have ruled that publicizing mug shots and "perp walks" do not violate the constitutional rights of suspects and arrestees. So held the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying "perp walks also serve the more serious purpose of educating the public about law enforcement efforts. The image of the accused being led away to contend with the justice system powerfully communicates government efforts to thwart the criminal element, and it may deter others from attempting similar crimes."
My office has contacted states and other cities that provide arrest videos on their Web sites. A few defense lawyers in those areas have filed challenges, but no convictions have been overturned because of an arrest video. All of our press releases about arrests, and the video in question, include this disclaimer: "Defendants are presumed innocent until a conviction is obtained."
We believe the video serves many purposes, including:
It will be a deterrent and sends a strong message that no one is above the law.
It lets the public know what is being done to fight crime and provides transparency in the justice system.
It may encourage witnesses and others to come forward with information about the case.
The way people receive and send information is constantly changing, and we're doing everything we can to provide information so people have the power to protect themselves. It is why we created IRIS (www.idtheft.utah.gov), a one-stop Web site for identity-theft victims to report a crime and repair their credit.
It is also why we facilitated the state's use of Crime Reports (www.crimereports.com), a Web site that tells you what crimes are occurring in your neighborhood. It is also why we added the AG blog to our Web site so I could correspond directly with people.
The editorial stated that it was OK for a sheriff's office to provide mug shots and even a perp walk. My office oversees the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. ICAC has never received a single objection when it invited reporters and photographers along to see firsthand the terrible dangers our children face online.
Numerous media outlets, including your newspaper, have photographed people getting arrested by ICAC. However, this practice sometimes leads to accusations of favoritism because not every media outlet is invited along. This new approach allows everyone, including the public, to see and use the video.
Regardless of whether anyone photographs or videotapes an arrest, every suspect is booked into jail, his mug shot becomes part of the public record and his face is often shown on TV and in the newspaper. The court video of the defendant is also public and available before the person is convicted.
The media and I should have the same goal on this issue: provide people with the best information to promote safety and prevent crime. The Utah Attorney General's Office will continue to provide on our Web site more documents, pictures and videos, including an occasional arrest video. I made a pledge when I took office that I would conduct the people's business in public and also protect people's constitutional rights. Our new Web site does both.
Mark L. Shurtleff is the Utah attorney general.
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