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Monday, October 21, 2013

The usual "suspects"

I'm sure this is a pet peeve for a lot of other people but I'm too lazy to google it right now.  Just chalk me up as one more.  I can't stand it when I read a newspaper article that refers to the lead character in a crime story as "the suspect," especially when it's clear that the "suspect's" name is not known.

This was triggered by an NYT story that quoted the Sparks, Nevada Police as follows:

"After the shooting, the Sparks Police Department posted a message on its Web site that read: 'Stay away from Sparks Middle School 2275 18th St. We believe the suspect has been neutralized.'"

Why can't they simply say "the shooter" has been neutralized?  In this case it is particularly egregious, because you really shouldn't go around "neutralizing" people on mere suspicion.

I heard/read the same mistake during the Navy Yard shootings.  There, the person killing all the people was "the suspect" and for a while there were even two or three "suspects," but nobody knew who they were.

Yes, people are innocent until proven guilty, but if you don't have a name, there is NOTHING to suspect.  You might as well call the person who is doing the shooting the shooter, the killer, the murderer.  That's what he is.

It gets more confusing if there actually is an identified suspect -- i.e. someone who the police think might have committed the crime.  In that case, it's even worse to talk about the "suspect" doing this or that crime, since then you're essentially assuming what you're supposed to be proving.

UPDATE June 13, 2015

Here we go again, from CNN today:

CNN)[Breaking news update, posted at 5:05 a.m. ET]
Authorities found explosives in one of four suspicious bags found near Dallas' police headquarters, Police Chief David Brown said. Police believe there were multiple shooters who may have fired from different locations. "There might be up to four suspects," Brown said.
[Previous story, posted at 4:53 a.m. ET]
(CNN) -- Shots were fired at Dallas police headquarters early Saturday, the Dallas Police Department said.
A witness told police that the suspects, who opened fire about 12:30 a.m., were in an armored vehicle. Police responded to the incident, the Dallas Police Department tweeted.
"There is currently a standoff with what appears to be an armored vehicle in the Dallas suburb of Hutchins, Texas, around I-20 and I-45," Major Max Geron said. No one has been injured so far.
    Security has been beefed up at Dallas police stations and at Dallas City Hall, he said.

    1 comment:

    1. Here's another good example from today's Washington Post:

      “This case is highly, highly probable that Paul Rowles is the suspect in the disappearance and likely murder of Tiffany Sessions,” Sheriff Sadie Darnell said.

      Just bizarre that the word "suspect" has come to be identified with "perpetrator" in police-speak. Or maybe it's worse than that -- perhaps for some police officers, there is no difference between the two.