Community Post

Our Crime Suspect Photo Policy

The last week has seen two separate comment threads that have included lengthy discussions about when we do and don’t publish photos, so it seems like a good time to clarify the exact thinking behind those decisions.

Generally, our policy on photos follows a general philosophy: we want to give our neighbors all relevant information that will help them be safe, make informed decisions, and understand what’s happening around them in the most objective, non-sensational way possible. For people involved in violent crimes and other persistent criminal activity, we think it’s important that people be able to recognize the players on sight. That’s especially true as we talk about things like the new drug enforcement strategy that relies on an engaged and informed community to help steer drug dealers in a more positive direction, and report them if they break their end of the deal.

We will publish a photo for a suspect in a crime only in the following situations:

  • When a suspect has been officially charged with a serious crime, such as a crime of violence, related to a violent gang, or a property crime such as burglary that is directly affecting neighborhood residents
  • When police release a photo for a person they’re looking for that threatens the public’s safety
  • If there’s video or photo of someone caught in the act of a crime
  • If a photo is available (*see below)

We will not publish a photo for criminal suspects if:

  • They haven’t been charged with a crime, unless there’s a very serious public safety reason to do so
  • They’re alleged to have committed a minor crime that doesn’t directly affect the public’s safety or property. For example, it’s hard to conceive of a reason why we’d publish the photo of a drug user/buyer, as they’re addicts and not directly threatening other people. But a repeat burglar would be fair game.
  • It is of a juvenile, unless there’s a very serious public safety reason to do so

* Photo Availability: The state department of corrections is the only official source for photos of criminal suspects, and those are only available if the suspect has previously spent time in a state prison. This drastically limits the opportunities for obtaining a photo, as many suspects have pleaded down to lesser sentences if they have been previously convicted of a crime.

Last week several people pointed out a racial imbalance in photo availability, in that no one has seen a photo of the suspect in the Leschi murder, who is white. It’s a totally valid point, and we looked far and wide for a photo of him but have so far come up blank. Rest assured that we will publish one if it ever becomes available.

One cause for this imbalance can be traced to county policy, which prevents the release of photos for people booked into the King County Jail. If that was loosened up, we would have been able to get photos of Appleberry and everyone else in the recent gang round-ups, which included a mix of races. However, with that policy in place we were limited to only getting photos from the state corrections department, and only one gang suspect had previously been that far through the justice process.

Since we’re not “professional journalists”, we checked around today to make sure our policy wasn’t out of step with generally accepted principles, and we found that it was right in line with other site’s policies. They agreed that official charges in a crime is the turning point for releasing names, photos, and other personally identifying information. That’s because the charging process, while not proof of guilt, has gone through a legal process to establish a reasonable suspicion of guilt. That makes it newsworthy, and something that the community at large should know about. 

0 thoughts on “Our Crime Suspect Photo Policy

  1. Your policy makes perfect sense. Perhaps, in future articles and posts you may add a note – *No photo available at time of posting.* And, if a suspect photo is later available, it can be added to the article.

  2. Scott, you continue to win my support with the information that you post on this site. I have been really upset about knowing more about the murderer. Thank you for all the work you put into this informative site…. :)

  3. I know Seattle well, the politicians, the media, the culture. I know for sure that Aaron Sullivan and his family are the ones that make Seattle the right place to live. I have been with the family everyday and have met all their friends. I have even had the opportunity to know Det. Cookie Bouldin of SPD better. She is caring, funny, and likes stamping, crafts. She and Aaron’s grandmother, Ruthie Porter are going to teach crafts to young people. Aaron would have liked that he brought these two people together in his death as he and his family brought together, good and interesting people during his short his life.

    How the major media treated the coverage of this murder and under reported the positive aspects of the victim and his family demonstrates the need for alternative media. Did King TV, choose not to do live coverage and interview the family of the victim because they are extremely intelligent? His mom Dr. Debra Sullivan is a college professor, his deceased father and grandfather both prominent attorneys, his aunt an attorney; his brother and sister little sister both quite typical of the kids I know in Seattle; bright, cute, intelligent, positively engaged in growing up. Did they not cover the vigil because it was filled with adults well known in prominent circles? Adults and kids who contribute to making Seattle a good place to live? His friends mourning him gather daily in the presence of parents and community adults as diverse as Seattle. This defies the image of African American and other non white Seattle/King County youth and their families.

    I am 64 years old and been around the block a few times. Along the way I have learned many things from many people. I know as well as I know my name that young men have always been physical and maybe a bit violent especially boys. Most (not all) like a good a heated challenge; a warrior nature of sorts. They used to do it with sticks and stones. It is now the guns in the hands of young people that creates the problem. We need to always make this the key issue, not the fact that there are violent youth. What we have are guns readily available in the hands of young men who are on the cusp of growing up, maturing, finding other things to do and effective ways to solve what seems like burning issues. Aaron did not have a gun, there are not guns in his household, yet he died because of a family who allowed their young son access to guns an assault weapons. Tristan’s mother allowed the weapon that her son Tristan Appleberry used to pretty much execute Aaron. Military weapons in the hands of young men outside of the military should not be seen as fair game in the 2nd amendment debates.

    As a local judge told me in a conversation about this; it is not the youth violence it about the guns that land in the hands of youth that kill and create permanent decisions for temporary issues.