Editor’s note: Suspect descriptions

The Daily only publishes suspect descriptions when they are specific and practical.

by Tony

Many Minnesota Daily readers have asked about the Daily’s policy for publishing police descriptions of criminal suspects. Several robberies on or near campus this semester prompted questions, and they ramped up after an armed man was reported in Anderson Hall last Monday.

The Daily’s policy for years has been to only publish descriptions of criminal suspects when they’re useful in identifying the suspect or better understanding the crime. Many police descriptions only detail the suspect’s gender and race, occasionally including clothing or age.

These vague descriptors alone don’t add to the story, nor do they aid in identifying a suspect. If descriptions aren’t specific and don’t serve a practical purpose, they can merely propagate hearsay or harmful stereotypes.

This policy extends to photographs, as well. Neither of the two photos published by University police show much useful detail, and the first suspect was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing. University police Chief Greg Hestness told the Daily last week that descriptions of the Anderson Hall suspect were “very common,” making it difficult to identify the suspect.

This doesn’t mean the Daily never publishes suspect descriptions. The Daily has reported when recent robberies on or near campus were committed by a group of men rather than an individual. When a student was reportedly attacked in Como last month, police described the suspect as a man in his 30s, which the Daily reported because that age range indicated the man was likely not a student.

The Daily strives to better inform the University community through accurate, transparent and fair reporting. The Daily’s policy on suspect descriptions is in service of that goal.