One of the issues that routinely gives us heartburn at the G-T (and did as well at the Missoulian, my former paper) is whether to identify juvenile suspects accused of crimes.
Last week, we faced another instance of this: Corvallis police arrested two suspects in a wave of vandalism against cars along Philomath Boulevard. One of the suspects is 18. The other one was 15. We decided to identify both suspects.
But when a 12-year-old boy brought a handgun to Osborne Aquatic Center a month or so ago, we decided not to identify him.
The relative ages were one difference between the two incidents: 12 is awfully young, and this, as far as we knew, was a one-time incident. We decided to not name the 12-year-old.
The case of the 15-year-old suspected vandal involved a series of events: This was not a one-time incident, a single ill-considered moment. In addition, we never had any question that we would identify the 18-year-old, and so a question of fairness was involved as well.
Some readers believe that the names of juvenile suspects charged with felonies are confidential, but that’s not the case: We often have access to those names, as would any member of the public who wanted to inspect the records. Some readers told us that they thought the G-T had a policy against publishing the names of juvenile suspects, and that might have been the policy of the paper in the past. But we’ve moved to a policy now where we consider these matters on a case-by-case basis, and try to do a juggling act: Do the benefits of publishing the name clearly outweigh the potential harm that could be caused by publishing the name? As you can tell, it’s not a science — but we try to make the best decision we can with the information we have at the time.
Readers had an interesting discussion after the swimming-pool story about whether we should have identified the suspect — you can track it by following the comments after the story. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this topic as well.