I write in response to your editorial headlined “Release names of criminals,” in which this newspaper asserted that the Westfield Police Department afforded two 18-year-olds charged recently with several crimes “special treatment” by not releasing their names because they “have friends in high places.”
That charge is wrong and offensive and I request that you retract it.
The editorial is inconsistent. You repeatedly call for the department to release the names but then note approvingly that “courts ultimately are the ones to decide on whether the names of youthful offenders are to be released.” How can the court be the ultimate decider if the names have already been published long before it considers the question?
In New York state, to receive youthful offender status one must be at least 16 but less than 19 years old and have been charged with a serious crime, meaning a misdemeanor or felony. Once the status is granted at sentencing, the offender’s records are sealed. The purpose of the youthful offender status is to give a court the power to determine whether a youth charged with a crime should be afforded an opportunity to rehabilitate before he is branded a criminal. The department plays no role in that determination and we take no position about whether the status should be granted in this case. It is a question for the courts, not us.
Accordingly, it is our policy to not release the names of any youth charged with a crime that has not attained the age of 19 years. This policy applies to everyone, without regard to whether they “have friends in high places.”
I would have gladly spoken about this subject to anyone from the newspaper requesting an explanation. Before you write another ill-advised and poorly reasoned editorial consider doing some legwork.
Robert Genthner is chief of the Westfield Police Department.