Frederick Web site puts faces on crime

Despite concerns, mayor plans to publish photos of people arrested for drugs

Prostitution cases now posted

September 09, 2004|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- The mayor plans to post photographs of everyone arrested for buying or selling drugs on the city's Web site, a move she hopes will cut down on so-called quality of life crimes.

Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty, who unveiled a Web page last week with pictures of people arrested in prostitution cases, says she hopes to provide another tool for residents to fight neighborhood crime. And if she embarrasses lawbreakers in the process, so be it.

"You have to do every little thing you can," she said.

Critics, like Frederick County defense lawyer Dino E. Flores Jr., call it "the new, expanded humiliation Web site," and wonders what happened to the concept of innocent until proven guilty. The site as it stands isn't for those convicted of crimes, just arrested and charged.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle said the wait for conviction in these misdemeanor cases is typically 30 to 45 days. Rolle said that's a short enough time for the city to hold off posting the pictures.

City lawyers are using a 1976 Supreme Court case to support their decision to post the pictures.

In that case, police in Louisville, Ky., printed fliers including photos of accused shoplifters and distributed them to shopkeepers in the business district. The Supreme Court held that the practice was legal.

Elsewhere, cities have posted pictures of alleged prostitutes and their customers on the Web or paid to publish them in newspapers.

In Denver, the photographs have run on public-access television, dubbed "Johns TV."

In Cincinnati, a plan to put pictures into the newspaper was scuttled when officials couldn't figure out how to pay for them.

Police in Orlando, Fla., put mug shots of people arrested in drug crimes and for lewd acts on the department's "Busted" Web page.

The state of Maryland posts its sex offender registry online, allowing residents to see whether a sex offender lives in their neighborhood.

Baltimore City has no plans to show faces of people arrested in drug crimes because of the volume of those arrests, police spokesman Matt Jablow said.

There have been more than 15,000 drug arrests in the city since May last year, he said.

"We wouldn't have the space," Jablow said.

Empowering neighbors

In Frederick, the goal is to empower residents by providing information about crime, Dougherty said.

The mayor said she hopes residents will call police if they see people they recognize from the Web site loitering on their block.

The prostitution pictures debuted nine months after Dougherty proposed the idea, after seeing another city's Web site.

It took time for the Police Department and the city attorney's office to research the legalities. Dougherty is now asking them to add drug offenders, but she says she isn't sure what the threshold for publishing will be.

"Is it any illegal drug use? I'm sort of a prude, so that's where I would go," Dougherty said. "I would like to know who's buying and selling drugs. Is shame something that works on them? I don't know, but that's not the purpose of it."

Right to post

Assistant City Attorney Kenneth Shapiro said his research revealed that the law allows the city "to print anything we want."

"Just because your booking photo isn't flattering and just because the accusation may be dropped or you may be acquitted" isn't enough reason to keep the pictures from being posted, he said. "If we were doing this with malice or we were doing this simply to embarrass, you might have a better argument."

Newspapers regularly print names of people accused of crimes and sometimes their pictures as well, Frederick Police Chief Kim C. Dine said.

"You have a right to know what's going on in your neighborhood," Dine said.

Presumption of guilt

Larry A. Nathans, a former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, said the presumption of someone's innocence could be lost if the pictures are displayed on the Web. People can be wrongly arrested, and these pictures can add unnecessary trauma to an already difficult situation, he said.

"The chance that an innocent person or a person who will never be convicted is put on that Web site is huge," he said. "There's just a whole series of problems with it."

Longtime Frederick activist and attorney Willie J. Mahone said the city should spend its time on more pressing problems: low wages, a water shortage and an achievement gap between white and minority students.

"This whole picture thing is a whole lot of energy spent on nothing," Mahone said. "Embarrassing people -- it's not what policing is supposed to be all about."

`This is garbage'

Flores said the Web site could taint jury pools when cases come to trial. He also wonders where it will end: Will jaywalkers someday see their faces on a computer screen?

"Can somebody show some connection that actually shows by doing this it's actually going to legitimately lessen these [crimes]? This is garbage. They're just making it up as they go along," Flores said.

"I think it's a publicity stunt, actually. Somebody show me how this is going to help anyone except than to make their lives even more miserable that they already are."

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