Police Beat 


Aug. 11

(2009-382027) 5:35 p.m.: For the first time in its four-year existence — really, has it been that long? — this column faces a moral dilemma.

You see the Mug Shot of the Week, right smack there in the center of this page? Legally, we have every right to run it. Mug shots, like all police records, are public. They're available and easily searchable online, both at the Orange County jail site and on OrlandoSentinel.com. I select them at random; there's no particular rhyme or reason to why one person's mug is picked and another's isn't.

Like I said, legally, we're free and clear. But morally … well, I'm conflicted.

First off, let's acknowledge the obvious: Cops can be wrong. Every once in a while — or, depending on who you talk to, quite frequently — they screw up. Some people go to jail who don't belong there.

That said, let's assume for the sake of assuming that most of the faces that appear in the middle of this column belong to people who are in fact scofflaws and deserve to be shamed for their crimes. In the last week, two things have happened to make me reconsider running the MSOTWs.

First, a friend of mine got arrested. The deed was relatively minor, as these things go. No one got hurt (though, in fairness, someone easily could have). But laws were broken, and he spent an evening in the county lockup. Clearly, he's not this week's mug shot. No one is, for reasons I'll get to later.

But what if he were? After all, if I didn't know him, I could just as easily pick his mug shot out of the dozens I look through every week. The implications could be, well, life-changing — which, honestly, you don't always think about from the safety of the cubicle.

Many companies, for instance, frown on their employees having run-ins with Johnny Law. Sure, these mug shots pop up on other sites, but how many people (besides me) spend hours scrolling through hundreds of them to find somebody they know? But if this guy's mug were to go on display in this wildly popular column, then somebody who knows somebody who knows the boss might well happen upon it — and some bad stuff could happen.

You could make the "do the crime, do the time" argument, until you run into someone who tells you that her life got fucked up — even though she did nothing wrong and the charges were dropped — all because of you.

I got that call last week. In tears, this woman recounted how she'd lost her job and received all kinds of ugly stares and unwanted attention from her appearance in this space. She says the charge against her stemmed from a misunderstanding. (As of this writing court records still show a scheduled arraignment in September, though she insists the charges have been dropped.) That may well be the case.

And if it is … damn. That's a big burden for a simple columnist to carry around.

Here's the flip side: What the column presents is factual information. These people were arrested. That's a fact. These are their mug shots. Also fact. These arrests, fair or not, are public records. As the MSOTW box notes explicitly, just because you have a mug shot doesn't mean you're an actual criminal.

And this column has never pretended to be a serious pontification on all things crime. Sure, there's occasionally a larger point to it, but on the whole these 750 words are dedicated to some of the more dimwitted crimes committed in our town.

Being the subject of a MSOTW might not be fun, but hey, I can't make everyone happy.

This weird twinge of conscience I'm feeling — so that's what that feels like — needs some resolution. So let me put it to you guys. Should the mug shot stay?

E-mail me your thoughts, and I'll announce whatever decision we reach in a week or two.

Anyway. That was some serious navel-gazing. Let's get to the crime in the few inches that this column has left.

A 40-something and a couple of youngsters entered a mall store that sells commemorative jewelry. They stole seven bracelets and cut an employee's face with a knife. See, people like that, I'd have no problem displaying their mugs far and wide if they were caught. Which they weren't.

(2009-382019) 5:40 p.m.: Residential burglary at an apartment. Boring.

(2009-382034) 5:54 p.m.: Another residential burglary. This time, our villain kicked in the front door and jacked a bunch of jewelry.

(2009-382186) 7:30 p.m.: Here's another one. More stolen jewelry. And what do you know? It's still lame.

jbillman@orlandoweekly.com

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