ARLnow is moving to remove old crime reports from internet searches.
After a review of past articles, we made the decision to keep the crime report articles on our site, but to mark each as pages that should not be indexed by Google, Bing and others.
In years past, Arlington County Police published a weekly crime report summary that ARLnow, in turn, reproduced, highlighting the more significant items. More recently, ARLnow compiled daily crime reports into a weekly post, the last of which was published on Aug. 1, 2019.
The problem is that along with the more significant items, crime reports would sometimes report on arrests for minor, nonviolent crimes — including the names of criminal suspects — without a mechanism in place to eventually remove such names from the record.
The decision to remove these posts from search engine visibility will not affect articles on individual crimes, which typically highlighted more serious incidents like robberies, stabbings and murders. It will, however, give dozens of nonviolent offenders a better chance at moving on with their lives after paying their debt to society — and that’s not to mention incidents in which someone was arrested but never convicted.
The ethics of nonviolent crime reporting at local outlets across the country have been under scrutiny in recent months. Crime reporters are reevaluating basic norms such as publishing the names and faces of offenders who pose little physical threat to the community.
Many who have spoken on the topic argue that these crime reports live on long after the offender they describe has paid the price for their crime — making it difficult to for the offender to move on with their lives. In an op-ed for the Guardian, former crime reporter Hunter Pauli writes about his decision to quit his job because of questions he had about the informative value of some crime reports and the impact on people’s lives.
“If you do a Google search for [the offender’s] name, the first results are stories about his alleged crimes,” Pauli wrote. “How is he supposed to get a legitimate job when a potential employer takes a cursory glance at his name? How is he expected to make an honest living and stay out of trouble?”
ARLnow has an existing crime report policy in place that provides for a review process if someone named in a crime article would like to request removal of their name:
If you have been arrested for a crime and have been found innocent or had the charges dropped, we will, upon request and at our sole discretion, consider removing your name from any articles we have published and requesting that Google update the page in their cache. We will also consider name removal for minor crimes that occurred more than 4 years ago.
If you would like to request name removal, please email us at [email protected] with your name, a link to the article in question, and proof of the court verdict or case status. Processing this request may take several weeks.
Our decision-making in these cases attempts to find a balance between the public interest of knowing about past criminal incidents and the private interest of individuals seeking to clear their name or move on from past mistakes. Note that all such emails will be reviewed, but we may not be able to reply to every message received, regardless of the ultimate outcome.
Shreeya Aranake contributed to this report. Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf.