In a modern-day take on the idea of putting criminals in the stocks, a city council in California is considering whether to publicly shame repeat drunk driving offenders by posting their photos on Facebook.
Council members in Huntington Beach, Calif. will consider the proposal tonight, put forward by councilman Devin Dwyer. He came up with the idea after the city's police department launched a Facebook page last November.
"I think trying to get these people's faces out there will get somebody to instead call a cab or use a designated driver," Dwyer said, adding that his plan would also help the public be on the watch for habitual drunk drivers.
Huntington Beach, Calif. clearly has a problem with drunk driving. The city, with 200,000 people south of Los Angeles, ranks first in alcohol-related traffic fatalities and injuries when compared to cities of similar size throughout the state. There were 195 alcohol-related deaths or injuries reported in 2009, according to state records.
City's Police Department Skeptical of Facebook Plan
Dwyer developed the idea after a local newspaper stopped printing a regular list of DUI arrests. Though Huntington Beach already posts logs of all arrests on a publicly available website, Dwyer says publishing the names and pictures of DUI offenders online could be a more effective way to discourage driving under the influence.
The city's police department, though, isn't so sure, though officers have posted a few images of serial drunk drivers on the department's Facebook page.
"Our position is it would just alienate people if we try to shame people," said Lt. Russell Reinhart, a public information officer with the Huntington Beach Police Department.
Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving says that the Facebook shaming tactic may not be the best method, telling ABC News in a statement that it hasn't seen "evidence that these types of tactics lead to the reduction of drunk driving incidents or fatalities."
The proposal is controversial among Huntington Beach council members. Dwyer says the measure needs four votes to pass, and he's only sure of three votes so far.
Does it violate the principle that one is presumed innocent until proved guilty? Dwyer answers that pictures would only be posted of people with previous convictions.
Huntington Beach Debates Photos of Drunk Drivers on Facebook
The Huntington Beach police department says that the best way to combat drunk driving is through tough enforcement. In 2009, the city's police officers made 1,687 DUI arrests.
"We have an aggressive enforcement posture for DUI driving. We dedicate extra officers for DUI enforcement... we're very proactive in that aspect," said Reinhart. "Despite that, though, I don't think shaming is part of law enforcement."
Still, Dwyer says he thinks it's important to think creatively to confont a problem that takes too many lives. He says the majority of calls he's received on the measure have been supportive, including one from a citizen who lost her husband and three children in an accident with a drunk driver.
"I think we're trying to accomplish the same thing. We have a difference in our definition," Dwyer said about the police department's opposition. "They don't like the fact that I have been touting public shaming, but they're looking to do the exact same thing, which is get these people off the road."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.