Another View: Does a DUI go on the front page?

By: Jenifer Gee,
-A +A

Reading through some of the comments online this week, I was interested to see that at least one reader thought we were publically shaming a woman arrested for two DUIs in the same day for the story, “One day, two DUI arrests.”
I had asked myself that same question before making the decision to publish the story on the front page of the next day’s paper. My thought process started with, how do we typically handle DUI arrests? The answer is reporters visit our local law enforcement offices each week, obtain public records of arrests made and then write down name, age, city of residence and alleged offense committed.
DUIs and other crimes committed are then printed inside as part of the crime log. Pretty much every week we print DUI arrests in Auburn, so it is still, unfortunately, a regular occurrence here.
There are cases when various arrest log entries such as violent assaults, a burglary string in a neighborhood or other serious crimes catch our attention and become bigger stories printed on the front page. In some cases, those crimes are also made known before we check the logs because the law enforcement agency involved issues a press release to all local media about the arrest.
So going back to the story that ran this week, I thought it stood out that twice in one day the same person allegedly committed the same crime in just about the same place.
Reporter Jon Schultz interviewed Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn about it, who said it was a rare occurrence to him. As the insight of a longtime law enforcement officer and now chief, I took his comments with significant weight. He then shared that he himself had been the victim in a DUI road crash when a drunken driver smashed into his patrol car when he was working with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office. He and a trainee ended up in the trunk of the car because the force of impact was so great. He was out on leave recovering for nine months.
Thus, when it came to planning the paper at the end of the day, I weighed the comments from a long-time law enforcement officer about the rarity of two DUIs in one day, coupled with a strong example of just how incredibly dangerous drunken driving is, to make my decision.
The dangers of impaired driving seem like a no-brainer to many safe drivers out there. But there are obviously still many who don’t consider or may ignore those dangers and still make the decision to steer the wheel of a car even though they should not.
The biggest goal I had when running the story and placing it where we did was to raise awareness that DUIs still happen and more than we’d like to think. One of the best things we can do as a newspaper is shine a light on the good and bad of what goes on in our community, and hopefully reminders such as these will keep these issues in discussion.
Judging by the more than 2,500 views to the story and the 20-plus comments, it looks like the issue does resonate with readers.
I hope the woman arrested is afforded her rights in court, but more than that I hope something — anything — is able to influence or convince her and others to never drive again under the influence.
I don’t by any means believe our newspaper will be the driving force. However, by showing that it happens, perhaps it could encourage those who can help to step in and also serve as a reminder we are fortunate to have law enforcement officers who intervene before more harm could be done.