Shame Tactic: Huntington Beach May Post DUI Arrests On Facebook

Huntington Beach, California is considering whether to post DUI arrest data on the city's police department Facebook page.

Many cities’ police departments post arrest data on their respective websites. But their traffic pales in comparison to a page on Facebook, where at least half of the more than half a billion visitors log on daily. That’s what Huntington Beach, California officials have in mind: public shame for driving under the influence.

Apparently, 31 percent of vehicle-related deaths in California involve drunk driving, said Huntington Beach Councilman Devin Dwyer. That’s what motivated him to suggest that Huntington Beach police post drunk driving arrest data on a Facebook page.

“We do have a DUI problem in Huntington beach, being a coastal community,” he said in a telephone interview. “The police are overwhelmed. On every avenue people are getting pulled over for DUIs. They spike during the weekend and the summer.”

The city has had a six-month hangover, ever since the Huntington Beach Independent stopped publishing DUI arrests in the newspaper, a decision corresponding to a change in management at the newspaper.

According to the Los Angeles Times, which is part of the same publishing company as the Huntington Beach Independent:

A July report by the city said there is “a significant DUI problem in Huntington Beach,” citing 274 alcohol-related collisions and 1,687 drunk-driving arrests last year – one of the highest rates in the state for a city its size.

This issue came up during a Monday night city council meeting, which included a discussion of the local police department’s new website. That’s when Dwyer raised the topic of pushing DUI data to a Facebook page.

The idea here is to post only the most flagrant offenders on that page, with the goal of using public shame to help rein in DUI offenses, said Dwyer. The legal novelty of this approach explains why the Huntington Beach City Attorney is now researching an opinion on whether to publish arrest information on Facebook.

Dwyer confirmed media reports that City Attorney Jennifer McGrath already has DUI record of her own. As the L.A. Times states:

McGrath, who was first elected city attorney in 2002, has herself pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and paid a $1,600 fine and attended alcohol awareness classes after being stopped in 2005 for driving on the wrong side of Main Street, not far from City Hall.

McGrath’s potential bias on the issue might lead her to assign to one of her staff of attorneys the task of writing the legal opinion on publishing DUI arrest on Facebook, Dwyer said. That could drag out the amount of time it might take to get any sort of resolution on this issue, and also yield more opportunity for controversy to brew.

Facebook is rife with signs of drug and alcohol abuse by people using the site, so I don’t doubt that posting DUI data on the social network could be highly effective. If it prevents untimely deaths, then any interim controversy over the privacy implications might be a necessary price to pay before justice gets served here.

If you saw DUI arrests posted on Facebook, would you make a more concerted effort not to drive while intoxicated? How would you feel about seeing yourself included in the online posts?