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HB won't put DUI arrests on Facebook

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Police will not post the names of suspected drunken drivers on the department’s Facebook page.

One council member argued Tuesday night that it would harm the city’s image, another said the strategy wouldn’t be effective, while others contended posting photos of habitual drunken drivers would embarrass families.

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However, Councilman Devin Dwyer, who pushed for the action, stuck to his plans saying he believed it could be one part of an effort to deter drinking and driving.

City Council members on Tuesday voted down Dwyer’s proposal to allow the police department to put the photos and names of habitual drunken drivers on the social network site.

Police Chief Kenneth Small said until now the department has not had a specific plan to put suspected drunken drivers on the Facebook page. All content posted is in the interest of public safety which could have, at times, included a drunken driver.

“The problem is, people are asking us to identify a habitual drunk driver,” Small said. “Is that one arrest? Two? Three?

“I don’t think there is any definition.”

Dwyer originally suggested posting all drunken driving arrestees on Facebook after the local paper, the Huntington Beach Independent, made an editorial decision to stop publishing the names of arrestees.

All arrests are public record and available at the police department and in the police log online.

After talks with Small and feedback from community members, Dwyer watered down his request to only put habitual drunken drivers on the department’s Facebook page.

The councilman got some backlash for using the word “shaming” to describe the list he would like to see on the social network site. He defended his choice of words saying: “If this were to save one life…I’m willing to support the issue.

“We’ve moved way up in the ranks of people who have been killed in the city because of drunk drivers.”

But he also got some support. Dwyer said he received numerous emails from residents and out-of-towners applauding his efforts because they had lost someone to drunken driving.

Facebook isn’t the way


Councilman Don Hansen wanted to leave the call up to the police, saying they were capable of posting any issues involving drunken drivers that may pose a serious public safety threat. But his hands-off approach wasn’t well received.

Councilman Keith Bohr said, with light humor, he worried about Huntington Beach being likened to a modern day “Footloose” – an uptight town with no dancing or partying allowed. But, more seriously, he said he was concerned the move could damage the city’s reputation as a destination location the city has worked to achieve.

“The negative marketing has already done more damage than it will do good,” he said of the widespread media attention on the issue.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman had family in mind when she voted no, saying she worried about the possible collateral damage of such an effort.

“Putting their picture on Facebook will not stop them from drinking but what it will do is humiliate their parents and terribly embarrass their children,” she said. “Being a child of an alcoholic in private is hell as it is; I don’t want the city making it any worse for them.”

Drunken driving issues


Huntington Beach has been criticized, and revered, for its downtown – an area dense with bars, restaurants and shops that serve up a family-friendly daytime atmosphere and a hot nightlife scene for residents and visitors from around Orange County.

The department in July suggested putting the names of arrestees on the police department’s Web site after a 16-page report outlined the city’s apparent “serious problem” with drunken drivers.

The report says the city has averaged 1,700 DUI arrests in the last three years and department officials have touted their strategy for catching offenders as the toughest in the county.

Their plans include educational outreach with bars and restaurants, a foot patrol in downtown that will help bar patrons grab a cab at the end of the night and seeking grants for several DUI checkpoints throughout the year.

The report showed in 2008 the city had the third highest number of DUI drivers in the state for a city of its size which can be looked at one of two ways: good saturation by police to catch offenders or an over-abundant party atmosphere that lends itself to the offense.

Small reported the city saw nine fatal traffic accidents in 2010. In five of those, alcohol played a role, he said.

“Drunk driving is clearly the most significant public safety issue we have in Huntington Beach,” he said. “Personally, I have no problem posting the information of habitual drunk drivers. The question is: would posting…increase public safety?”

The answer the council gave Tuesday night was “no.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7953 or jfletcher@ocregister.com

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