A New Mexico Attorney General’s Office determination in favor of transparency started my work week with a bang.
When I arrived Monday morning, I found a letter from an attorney with the AG’s Office, ruling that law enforcement records involving children aren’t exempt from public inspection.
I’d been waiting a long time for a decision on that matter, and I appreciate the attorney general and the office staff getting it to me.
Getting any determination would have been something, but one that went the direction I believe is right was a professional high.
The City of Rio Rancho is processing an influx of record requests, particularly in the case of Lincoln Harmon, the local toddler who died from an apparent gunshot wound in December.
Our readers can expect reporting on what investigators believe happened in that incident as soon as we can find out.
You can also expect our arrest records listing to again include juveniles, but not by name.
Under the procedures we’ve used for a decade, we don’t identify juveniles charged with crimes unless those crimes are violent felonies: murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, rape/molestation and, depending on the severity of the circumstances, felony aggravated battery. We’re not interested in ruining a kid’s name over youthful foolishness like a fist fight or stealing a candy bar — although we hope subsequent consequences teach the young person to make better decisions.
For misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges against minors, we list age, gender, charges, date and incident location. We identify the block and street if the location is a home, but give a specific address if it’s a public place.
When someone of any age disregards the life or dignity of another to the point of committing a violent felony, we think our community members have a right to know who did such a thing. That knowledge lets them avoid dangerous situations with the person, take care of any loved ones the crime affected physically or emotionally, and seek justice.
Plus, removing social scrutiny doesn’t teach troubled kids that senseless violence is unacceptable. It teaches the opposite.
With victims, the Observer has always made every effort to protect the innocent from embarrassment, whether child or adult. We don’t identify surviving victims unless they seek us out to tell their story and give us permission to identify them, or in some circumstances, if they’re already public figures.
An example of that last scenario would be identifying a police officer injured in the line of duty.
The only victims we identify in normal practice are those who have been killed. Not only are they beyond embarrassment, but they should be named and remembered by their community, not allowed to fade out of memory as if they didn’t matter.
These practices are typical. Our partners at the Albuquerque Journal don’t normally identify child victims except in cases of homicide or fatal car crashes, either.
Fears of local journalists exploiting the identities of child victims are unfounded.
We put our names on what we report and face public scrutiny every day. If our audience has a problem with how we report, we’ll hear about it.
Believe it or not, we’re human beings, too. We have children in our lives, and we think of them when we report on someone harming a child.
We’re committed to doing everything we can to report on public safety matters without making things worse for victims.