Wednesday, May 18, 2005

You are Suspected of Being a Person of Interest

I really wish authorities would stop using the phrase "person of interest." I'm not sure where it originated (after Richard Jewell, maybe?), or why all law enforcement agencies dealing with media cases have decided to use it, but it's just stupid to me. In the old days, they would call a person suspected of involvement in an offense a "suspect." Imagine that! It doesn't mean the person is the perpetrator--just that the police suspect the person might be the perpetrator. Of course, the media and the crime-of-the-week obsessed public love to run with it. And it can ruin someone's life--at least for a while--to be labelled a suspect. Perhaps worrying about lawsuits or maybe out of genuine concern for suspects who turned out to be innocent, cops suddenly stopped using it, and replaced it with the new fangled phrase, "person of interest." What the heck does that mean? Well, it pretty much means the same thing that "suspect" means, only with different words. Instead of implying that the police "suspect" the individual of involvement in the crime, it implies that the police are "interested" in the person's possible involvement in the crime. The police act like it means something different. In press conferences about the latest high-profile crime, reporters ask, "Do you have any suspects?," and the police respond that they do not, but that Joe Blow is a "person of interest." But you never hear the police change the characterization of someone from a "person of interest" to a "suspect." He either goes straight to being arrested and charged with the offense, or he is "cleared," or--in the case of an unsolved crime--he remains a "person of interest" in perpetuity. "Person of interest," then is just a euphemism for "suspect." But using a euphemism offers, at most, minimal protection from the consequences of being linked to a heinous crime. Consequently, to be labelled in the media as a "person of interest" has the same life and reputation-altering effect as being called a "suspect." I suppose there's not much of a downside to using "person of interest," instead of "suspect." But, if law enforcement is using it because they think it someone protects innocent people any better than using "suspect," I think they're fooling themselves.


Anonymous Gideon said...

I don't know about any of this. It just sounds so stupid. "person of interest", "suspect".

A while back, when Gov. Rowland was being prosecuted here (or atleast investigated), a big deal was made about the difference between a "target" and "some other word that i'm forgetting".

Basically one was that you are the - duh - target of the investigation and the other was that you are involved and might become the target.

Lordly, lord. How we love to run circles around ourselves.

5/19/2005 7:19 AM  
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