Experts: Newspaper as Crime-Fighting Tool May Tread Dangerous Ground
SEMINOLE, Fla. (AP) _ ″Murders-Rape-Abuse-DUI’s-Drugs-Shoplifting-More.″
A retrospective of summer films? No, it’s the subheading for the prototype of The Informer, a new Florida newspaper promising crime stories and no glory.
Fed up with big-city newspapers missing all but the most sensational crimes, a Florida man is publishing a tabloid listing every local arrest, including those for alleged shoplifting and drunken-driving, as well as murder.
The Informer plans to fight crime by filling pages with a blotter-style listing of every suspect - even though they’re innocent until proven guilty.
″This is going to be a deterrent,″ said publisher Ray Aden. ″What is happening is the great majority of people violating our laws are not known - to their neighbors, their bosses, sometimes even their family.″
″But nobody wants to get their name in the paper.″
Some daily newspapers already print crime blotter information. There’s nothing unlawful about printing arrests from the public record. But civil libertarians and attorneys say the tabloid is treading dangerous legal ground and could trample the rights of the accused.
From a small office in this St. Petersburg suburb, Aden and a handful of employees are busy preparing for the Oct. 3 premiere of the twice-monthly, 89- cent publication.
Aden, a 70-year-old marketing analyst, has spent nine months and more than $150,000 getting ready to print the paper slated to be about half advertising and half listings of arrests, along with articles such as ″How To Deal With Obscene Phone Calls.″
The area’s big dailies report only a few arrests a day, focusing on major murders and drug busts. But each issue of The Informer is designed to bulge up to 48 pages and list hundreds of arrests in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and surrounding Pinellas County communities.
All of them list only the standard booking information: name, address, age and arresting charge.
″We’re not crime reporting or editorializing - that’s not the concept,″ Aden said. ″We give the community information. ... It probably will evolve into more area crime watches, which will benefit the community.″
And on every page, beneath boldface headers reading ″Domestic Violence″ and ″Shoplifting″ disclaimers in the newspaper’s tiniest type read, ″Note: being arrested does not mean the person is guilty.″
″They have an absolute right to print arrests,″ said Robyn Blumner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida. ″But I would only hope the public is smart enough to know that arrests by themselves are legally irrelevant.″
Patricia Anderson, a libel attorney whose clients include the St. Petersburg Times, said publishing arrests is fine, but they had better be accurate.
″One wrong first name or one wrong middle initial and you could have a big lawsuit on your hands,″ she said.