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Crime SceneIt was a Saturday evening. My wife and I were returning home from the movies, and as soon as we turned the corner onto our street I knew something was wrong.

Neighbors were standing outside, huddled in groups. Flashing red and blue lights illuminated the concern on their faces. My first thought was that a neighbor had had a medical emergency, but then I saw crime scene tape blocking the road. There were nearly a dozen police cruisers and as many officers along with floodlights, and the large box truck that Salinas PD uses for crime scene investigations.

I thought to myself that it must be a domestic incident. We live on a quiet street, but a domestic incident, that can happen anywhere. An officer motioned for us to turn around, I quickly obliged. By driving around the block I was able to get us home. From our front yard I could see that the crime scene appeared to be the length of six homes on both sides of the street.

We went inside and I logged into Facebook to check “Neighborhood Watch help in Salinas” a local group that more often than not breaks news of crimes faster than any news organization. Another group member who had been manning the police scanner had posted that there had been a shooting, an attempted murder, on our street. Finding little additional information that night we slept nervously, the illusion of safety and security broken. Our quiet, peaceful street was no longer the same. With every sound my eyes popped open, my heart raced. I double-checked that all the doors and windows were locked tight.

By morning Salinas PD had issued a press release. The victim, a 39-year-old man, was among a group of neighbors  barbecuing in the driveway. Two shooters arrived, exited their vehicle that was driven by a third accomplice, and approached the group. When they reached the driveway, without saying a word, they began shooting. Then they ran back to the car and sped off down the street, a route that took them directly past our home. The victim was struck multiple times. No one else was hit. The victim was listed in serious condition at the hospital. t

The last line of the press release stated, “The case is being investigated as possibly gang related due to previous gang contacts by the victim.”

Now I was angry. A gang member? On our street? He apparently had brought the shooting on himself and put us all in danger by his very presence. I’m observant. How could I not have known?

Later that morning I spoke with some of my neighbors and learned that the victim lived a few doors down from where the shooting occurred. I shared with them that the police identified the victim as a gang member. We were all nervous and concerned and unsure of what we should do. We found no comfort in our shared fear and shuffled back to our homes, mumbling about the way it used to be.

Since the shooting on our street earlier this summer I’ve become more involved with the Facebook group “Neighborhood Watch Help in Salinas.” We are a community of over 4,000 local members. We share information about crimes in our neighborhoods, offer tips and suggestions for keeping our families safe, and provide a forum for community-driven crime prevention strategies. We also address non-crime neighborhood issues that affect our quality of life. Posts in the group are made by members. Through them we have 4,000-plus sets of eyes and ears on the streets. We have a set of rules designed to keep the group civil. Several administrators including myself monitor things to assure compliance, removing posts and comments and members when necessary.

As the group has grown and participation has increased, we face a number of ethical questions. Should we allow photos of auto accidents and crime scenes? Should we allow photos and posts about suspicious persons who are not committing a crime? Should we allow names of suspects or victims to be posted before that information has been made public? How much information should we allow posted about police activities during active incidents? We deal with each of these ethical questions as they arise often with input from members.

Several members thinking outside the box  have recently suggested that the state  establish a mandatory, publicly accessible gang member registry and neighbor notification similar to Megan’s Law, the registry and notification requirements for sex offenders. The argument being that we have a right to know of any potential dangers in our neighborhoods so that we can take appropriate precautions. If a child molester moves in next door, it poses a risk to our children and we have a legal and ethical right to know about it. We require publicly posted notices and a database of the locations of toxic chemicals and radioactive materials. If a gang member engaged in illegal activities moves in next door they are putting the neighborhood in danger from gang violence. Why do we not have a right to know about that so we can take appropriate precautions to protect our families?

Currently as part of Proposition 21 some gang members are required to register with law enforcement when ordered by the court. However, the registrations are not made public. The state does maintain a database of gang members and information about their activities. It is an important tool for law enforcement, and the information is kept under lock and key with access restricted to only certain law enforcement officers.

Chances of the state establishing a publicly accessible gang member registry and neighbor notification system are highly unlikely. The question then becomes this. Should individuals share information via social media or any other format identifying gang members and their residences? And what if we know of a gang member in our neighborhood and share that information publicly and the gang member or someone else is injured or killed. Who is responsible? If we know of a gang member in our neighborhood and we do not share that information, and an innocent person is injured or killed, do we share responsibility for that as well?

There are more questions still. How do we decide who should be reported as a gang member? We don’t want false accusations. We don’t want a witch hunt. I’m assuming that the only gang members identified would be those verified by law enforcement, such as the victim in the shooting on my own street who was identified in the press release as a gang member. Another example would be when gang members are arrested and later released to return home. Often the press release from the police department identifies them as gang members. But even when we only share information that is already publicly available about confirmed gang members we still have the ethical question of responsibility for whatever results from our choosing to act or not to act.

I’m trying to recall if Socrates addressed any similar dilemma. I’d love to hear from our resident philosophers and attorneys on these ethical questions and I invite you all to visit our group on Facebook “Neighborhood Watch Help in Salinas.”

Devin Podeszwa lives in Salinas.


How Facebook Made Me Promiscuous

Puppy of an English bulldogBack in the good old days of newspapering, editors could measure a writer’s productivity by counting bylines, but it was considered bad form. It unfairly equated routine accounts with ambitious explorations of corruption or villainy.

In the more recent days of computerized journalism, it became easier for editors to track volume. Because there are fewer ambitious explorations of anything, the fairness factor has become less of an issue. Productivity is easily measured and so is most everything else involved in the production of news. Even keystrokes can be counted and, more ominously, editors are presented with a daily accounting of how many readers have chosen to read each article. Giving readers only what they think they want is not a cure to journalism’s decline.

Reporters quickly learned that ambitious explorations attract a good number of “hits,” signaling that readers had clicked on the online version of an account. They just as quickly learned, however, that stories about lost puppies or anything involving sex attract more hits. Journalists adapted and began referring to themselves as “click whores.” Having been escorted out of print and into the zippy new world of cyberjournalism, I find myself  paying less attention to the quality of my output because I get wrapped up in the numbers even though I know it could lead to the sexualization of puppies. The website program in which the Partisan resides can count and even graph the number of hits each article receives. It instantly compares today’s offering to yesterday’s and makes suggestions on how to write headlines that would attract more clicks. According to it, I probably should start following this format: “Desalination Plan Stalls Again. Puppies. Sex.”

As I have warned before, I am embarking on a plan to solicit sponsors to help cover the Partisan’s expenses. (By sponsors, I’m talking about NPR-style, nice-people-with-money type sponsors and not Big O Tires). While gearing up for that, I have been attempting to get the Partisan’s numbers up to a respectable level, which has meant putting figurative puppies into the headlines and trying to pick worthwhile topics not entirely boring. But with an advertising budget of zero and a promotions staff half that size, my marketing effort for now consists of Twitter and Facebook. Which is why I have become a truly promiscuous Facebook friender. Most likely, you are reading this because you received a link to the Partisan on your Facebook page. You have fallen into my trap, and so have I.

In the early days of Facebook, I wrote a Monterey Herald column about the Facebook phenomenon. I mentioned at that time that I had something like 60 friends and I noted that it was not true. I can count my true friends on two hands. Now I claim well over 1,700, and I expect to reach 1,800 by the end of the month. Apparently becoming proprietor of the Partisan has made me much more likeable. If I didn’t know otherwise, the numbers might even suggest I had developed some charm.

Early on in my new incarnation as a click whore, I tried to be selective about sending friend requests. The first rule was that I had to really know the person. That was the first rule to be broken. The next  broken rule was that I had to at least know who the person was. For a time, it had to be that the target, I mean potential friend, and I had to have at least 50 mutual friends. That became an interesting examination about patterns of friendships. As a lifelong journalist, I shared many friends with other journalists and with numerous politicians. You may have noticed that Sen. Bill Monning has reached the maximum allowable number of Facebook friends, 5,000, and so has Jaz the TV anchor.The person with whom I share the most Facebook friends is Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker, with 581. In second place, Sen. Monning, at 541.

In legal depositions, lawyers wanting to determine levels of friendship will ask whether so and so has ever been to dinner at so and so’s house. I have been to dinner at Morley Brown’s house, which makes sense since we share 256 friends. One of my biggest Facebook friends is chef John Pisto, with 507 shares even though he and I have spoken only once, at Home Depot. He says he will invite me to his home for dinner sometime. I very much hope he does.

Very high on my list is your friend and mine, Dewey L. Zeigler.  I’m hoping that at least one of the 499 friends we share knows who he really is and will clue me in. On the down low, of course.

I am not Facebook friends with many people, though the number declines every day. Not Dave Potter or Lou Calcagno. Not Tony Lombardo or Howard Gustafson or anyone on the Sand City City Council. Some of my real-world friends scoff at Facebook, so I actively try to avoid Partisan topics that they would enjoy. I’ll show them. I am not a Facebook friend of Carmel Pine Cone publisher Paul Miller. Apparently some things are beneath him.

I have always enjoyed Facebook as a way to keep in touch with old friends and keep up with the daily affairs of current friends. Now, I have entered a new dimension, learning quite a bit about people I don’t know at all. Recently I have become friends with several massage therapists and practitioners of various arts at Esalen. The majority of my new friends are women, but I don’t think I’m knowingly avoiding men.

For the most part, my new friends live on or around the Peninsula. That’s because there’s little point in promoting a Monterey Bay-oriented website to people in Paducah. If you live in Hollister or beyond, I am doubly sorry for bothering you.

I find my potential friends by clicking on the friends link on my page. I also will admit to sometimes going to the page of an actual friend and trolling for possibilities. A couple of times I received messages from Facebook strongly suggesting that I was misusing the “friend” function and encouraging me to knock it off. I got up from the computer, walked around the room for a while, whistling casually, and returned to my pursuit quietly so as not to attract attention. It seems to have worked. If you live in or around Monterey, you very likely have been spammed with one of my requests. You can immunize yourself against further intrusions simply by accepting my next request. You can then send me a Facebook message of complaint and I will send you a sincere apology, along with a link to the Partisan. If that happens, please read the post, but only after hitting the “share” button.