Our View: Protecting a reputation or protecting the public?


Last week, the Times reported on Shaun Carlan, a fugitive wanted by police for severely beating a local woman after she refused his sexual advances at a city park. The crime occurred September 11, yet the Alexandria Police Department did not make the information public until a month later — only after the Times inquired about it, and after the suspect had a month to flee town.

He is still missing.

An alleged attempted rapist was on the loose, yet APD chose against distributing his picture to the very residents paying their salaries. The choice was an irresponsible one that diluted public safety and indicates a larger problem of transparency within the police department. It points to a paradigm that keeps the public uninformed and warm, under the comfy cover of false security. Ironically, withholding knowledge of an alleged rapist in the name of public safety exacerbates the danger to the community.

Information is power. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” Just as literacy informs individual rights, candid knowledge of Alexandria’s criminal landscape informs safety. A knowledgeable citizen can defend himself. But Virginia’s public information laws are the worst in the country when it comes to police investigations. Police here are outfitted with alloy zippers and impenetrable shields against public information requests like few other states in America, and it’s dangerous.

“Our policy is [whenever] we have a case where we feel like an individual who is at large is a threat to the community, we release that information,” Deputy Chief Spruill told the Times. On the street level, Alexandria police are professional law enforcers and for the most part perform their job admirably. But we are vexed as to why Carlan was not deemed a threat to the community.

Carlan had previously been convicted of malicious wounding and served just nine months of a 39-month prison sentence. A few months after his release, he allegedly “lost it and beat the living daylights” out of the woman, according to Detective Victor Ignacio. The Times obtained photos of the victim before and after the incident, her face swollen to the point that a birthmark was the only way her mother could identify her.

Ignacio said Carlan was a bigger threat to his friends than to the public. The victim is a member of the public. Was she not threatened, indeed violently beaten? Prior to the night of the incident, the victim did not know Carlan. If it happened once it could happen again, even if outside of Alexandria.

This is not the first time complaints have surfaced regarding the disparity between actual crime and the crime reported. Residents living near the Berg have long been at odds with the crime reports in their neighborhood, believing the police are trying to save face for a city with a relatively good safety record.

The APD is charged with protecting the city’s residents. Had it issued a warning about the fugitive, perhaps he’d be caught by now, even if Alexandria’s reputation as a relatively safe suburb was bruised. Better a bruised reputation than another bruised resident of this city.