When Eagan, Mn., residents saw a neighbor led away by police, they wondered what happened. When he returned, he saidit was a mix-up involving his brother and a financial matter. Actually, he was wanted for for criminal sexual conduct, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Commander Mike Scott, who oversees the 235-bed Dakota County jail, told the story as an example of how the public will benefit from a Web site launched last month. Anyone with online access can check who is in the jail – and why. The Web site is part of a national trend to help the public learn more about those accused and convicted of crimes. Law enforcement officials say posting information is good public relations and saves staff time by reducing the dozens of daily telephone inquiries. “A lot of people do call to find out if their husband is in jail, if their son is in jail, because they haven’t shown up at home,” Dakota County Sheriff Chief Deputy Dave Bellows said. “We are just trying to make this department a little more user-friendly.”
The public may not distinguish between an arrest and a conviction, said public defender Anthony Ho. He is concerned about landlords and employers making decisions based on an arrest or a charge. “Once somebody is charged, a lot of people tend to presume the person did it, which is obviously ironic given they are supposed to be presumed innocent,” Ho said.
The free site (www.co.dakota. mn.us/sheriff/jailsearch) allows people to check on a particular inmate or see everyone in custody on a particular date. The site includes inmates’ names and ages, mug shots, bail amounts, arrests and charging information.
Dakota County Sheriff Don Gudmundson started the site after reading about a similar effort in Washington state. The site will improve public safety, he said. For example, an officer seeking for a burglary suspect may notice someone held in the Dakota County jail for a similar string of burglaries and then solve the crime. The roster doesn’t include the inmate’s exact home address – only the city.