Is it a public safety issue, or just a form of sanitized voyeurism?
Since the start of newspapers in America, crime stories have often been among the most-read. Even in towns with an infinitesimal crime rate like Lavallette – perhaps even to a larger extent than in a big city – stories listing who was arrested for drunk driving or shoplifting spurred conversation.
Lavallette, like many towns, has not published a police blotter – a public listing of the crimes committed and the suspects who were arrested for them – for many years. It is something that the department’s superior officers no longer believe is necessary, officials said, but some residents miss the listing.
“It tells us that our officers are doing their job,” said resident Joe Palinski. “It’s also about public knowledge.”
While some towns have cut out police blotters due to a lack of manpower in an age of budget constraints, others have chosen not to publicize minor crimes because of the effect of the Internet.
“Thanks to the Internet, a simple Google search of a person’s name can now quickly turn up that police record you thought was dismissed…and your neighbors and employer knew nothing about,” an article on the subject by iMediaEthics.com, an industry publication said, starting a debate on the topic.
“The name of the person who disturbed the peace doesn’t make any difference to the fact that someone disturbed the peace,” said Lavallette Councilwoman Joanne Filippone. “Do the names of who tickets are issued to make a difference? Does the identity of the person give it any more value?”
Mayor Walter LaCicero, a former police officer who is now an attorney, said even though there is no blotter actively published each week, arrest reports are still public record. Attorneys, he said, go through them routinely in order to market their services to defendants. If a member of the press wanted to do the same, they could.
“There are other means of getting that information,” aside from a blotter, LaCicero said.
For now, the weekly police blotter will remain a thing of the past, though officials said they would bring it up in future discussions with the police department.