Meet Kimberley Miniea. She lives in Chicago and she’s been arrested for pandering. I had to search what pandering was – according to various American websites it is similar to pimping.
Kimberley is one of more than 200 images in a Chicago Tribune picture gallery which features a regular selection of people who have been arrested for offences. They are the mugshots from the local police stations.
One of the websites I work with, the Liverpool Echo site, has seen huge numbers of visitors to its online Caught on Camera campaign, which involves the publication of CCTV stills from crimes or mugshots of people wanted by the police.
The key difference between what the Echo does and what the Tribune is doing in America is that those people appearing in the Tribune’s picture gallery aren’t being actively sought by police. Likewise, they haven’t been convicted.
Those 200 people are in a hinterland between arrest and possible conviction – so is it right to publish the pictures online? Admittedly, the Tribune runs a disclaimer pointing out that arrest doesn’t mean guilt – although coverage of the ensuing court case would remove that problem to an extent.
The reason I mention this here is because it demonstrates the huge gulf in attitudes between the police in the UK and police in America. The Western Mail recently reported on how police in South Wales had claimed not a single crime had been committed over a weekend – but when the paper used FOI to get a list of crimes, it turned out some 500 had been committed.
It’s not the first time this issue has come to light, and the police argued in response that it isn’t their job to provide a news service for the media. That’s true – but at what point does ‘not here to provide a news service for the media’ become ‘releasing as little as possible because we don’t want to give people the impression crime is going on all the time.’
Greater Manchester Police recently generated a lot of publicity when it tweeted details about every crime for a day. It helped prove the point that many of the ‘crimes’ they deal with would be better classed as social work. But that was just one day – what’s going on the rest of the time? Making more information available about crimes, and the arrests which may follow, is surely a better way of allowing people to determine how safe they are.
I have some sympathy with police forces which are reluctant to release details of all the day-to-day crimes being committed. Not because of the argument that it would be a drain on resource – it is surely a system which could be automated to some degree – but because of the way councils and police forces were aggressively benchmarked by the previous government on the notion of ‘fear of crime.’
On one hand, you could look at the Chicago Tribune picture gallery and think ‘what a lot of crime is being committed, am I safe?’ Or you could think ‘Look at all these people the police are catching.’
But surely the over-riding result of the Tribune’s picture gallery – other than page impressions for the Tribune – is the sense of a more transparent criminal justice process. The previous government worked hard to make sure that magistrates courts lists were available to the media, arguing it was important for the public seeing justice was being done.
I’d argue the police should take a leaf out of that book – the more information they release, the more they’ll be seen to be doing their job. And the Chicago Tribune’s picture gallery could be one way of doing that.