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Facebook "Shaming" of Drunk Drivers Weighed in Calif. City, May Post DUI Mug Shots

(iStockphoto/AP)

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP)  It's a modern variation on "The Scarlet Letter" - except the crime is drunk driving, not adultery  - and the medium is Facebook.

Police in Huntington Beach, a city that tops California for alcohol-related traffic fatalities, might soon try shaming drunken drivers off the road, if some politicians get their way.

A city councilman wants police to begin posting mug shots on Facebook of everyone who is arrested more than once for driving while under the influence.

"If it takes shaming people to save lives, I am willing to do it," said Devin Dwyer, the councilman behind the proposal. "I'm hoping it prevents others from getting behind the wheel and getting inebriated."

In a contentious move that has raised the hackles of privacy advocates and been met with resistance from a police department fearful of alienating residents

Dwyer initially wanted the police department to post photographs on Facebook of everyone arrested for DUI in the bar-laden beach town just south of Los Angeles. He has watered down his proposal - now only repeat offenders would be featured on the virtual wall of shame - in hopes of winning support from the rest of the seven-member council, which is set to vote on the issue Tuesday.

Huntington Beach, a city of about 200,000 famed for its Surf City alias, an off-leash dog beach and a downtown packed with bars, is ranked tops out of 56 California cities of similar size for the

number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. In 2009, 195 people were killed or injured.

Drunken driving laws are aggressively enforced, and in 2009, there were 1,687 drunken driving arrests.

"There is a saying: Come to Huntington Beach on vacation, leave on probation," said attorney Randall Bertz, who specializes in drunken driving cases.

Bertz, a former police officer who has been defending such cases for 23 years, said uploading suspects' photos onto Facebook violates their right to privacy and would likely not be a deterrent

to habitual drunken drivers.

"It will have a negative impact on relations with the community, the police department and city officials," he said. "What's next, will they have drunk drivers walk around with sandwich boards? Will it be public flogging?"

For its part, the Huntington Beach police department is pushing back against Dwyer's proposal. Police spokesman Lt. Russell Reinhart said that since launching its Facebook page in November, officers have found it to be a valuable way of getting information to the public and soliciting tips on tough cases.

A couple of drunken driving suspect mug shots have been posted, but they were from egregious cases where police thought the public could be at immediate risk from the suspect. Reinhart fears Facebook fans could be turned off by the routine public shaming of all repeat DUI offenders.

"We see no value in doing that," he said. "Law enforcement is not about public shaming."

Dwyer said he has received wide support from residents for his proposal, including from a woman whose husband and three children were killed in an alcohol-related crash. He decided to push his plan forward after the local newspaper had a change in editorial policy and ceased publishing arrest logs.

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