One of the questions our newsroom occasionally receives about crime stories is: What is the suspect's race?
We often don't include the race of the suspect, and there are a variety of reasons why.
Sometimes we don’t have the race of the suspect because law enforcement did not release it.
Other times the race of the suspect might be the only piece of information we have. Simply saying the suspect is a white man isn’t going to help anyone identify who that suspect is.
There is no positive benefit to a description that vague.
When it comes to African Americans, there can be a negative impact of a vague description.
Simply saying the suspect is a black man offers little hope of identifying the person but potentially reinforces negative stereotypes. As journalists, we believe it is our responsibility to fairly and accurately reflect our community. That’s why we think carefully about how our work could impact the people who live in it.
Most newsrooms have a policy to only use race as a description if there is enough detail in the overall description that someone could use that information to identify the suspect. We wanted a clearer policy.
In order to use a suspect description, we need to have at least five pieces of information from this list:
- Eye color
- Specific physical characteristics (ex: limp, prosthetic, missing teeth, scar, etc.)
- Clothing description
- Hair description
- Race and gender
We believe this policy will allow us to more easily and consistently make decisions about how we describe suspects.
As always, please feel free to send me your feedback or questions at email@example.com.
To read more about WCPO's policies and decisions, visit WCPO.com/trust.
Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.