Crime alerts shouldn’t include suspects’ names

by Ken Priest, Contributor

The San Diego State Police Department sent a community safety alert on Sept. 14 detailing a report of sexual battery on campus. In a follow-up email SDSU police announced it had a suspect in custody and that he had been booked at the San Diego County Jail. This report included the suspect’s name.

It’s not hard to figure out why police send campus-wide emails while in pursuit of a suspect.

Releasing a suspect’s name, on the other hand, should be reconsidered.

Due to how quickly the suspect’s name gets released, it’s inconsequential whether the accused ends up being guilty or not. It’s simply impossible to know if the accused is in fact guilty at the time of the arrest. This becomes a huge problem if the suspect is found to be innocent. The damage inflicted to an accused person’s reputation is irreversible as soon as anyone on campus opens a community safety alert that has that person’s name.

The effect that damage can have on a person’s reputation should be taken seriously. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1895 case Coffin v. United States established that those accused of crimes are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, public perception doesn’t always abide.

It’s not just the public perception, either. In 2014, Columbia University revised its Gender Based Misconduct policies. These new policies allow for the accused to be found guilty with significantly less assurance than “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Google and Facebook have created a world where maintaining a private life is increasingly difficult. When a name is released, people within our community can take that name, do a couple of quick searches and rapidly put a face to it.

When the media gets involved, potential mistakes are further magnified. A retraction is almost never as impactful as the original report. In 2014, NBC San Diego reported that a sexual assault occurred at the Theta Chi Fraternity house on campus. However, this was not true. The assault didn’t happen at a fraternity house at all, but the retraction was all the way at the bottom of the page and the URL for the story still claims the assault happened at a fraternity house.

The Internet age has significantly increased the value of names and their liberal distribution should be conducted with more caution.