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The perp and the suspect

Crime, Law and JusticeBill Walsh

Last week, in an apparent excess of frustration that I recognize, Bill Walsh (@TheSlot) tweeted: "Limited-time offer for cop reporters: For only $500, I will teach you the meaning of the word "suspect.'"

By now the limited time has surely expired and Mr. Walsh has collected his fee, so no stealing of thunder will occur if I offer some free advice to colleagues in journalism.

Here's the advice: Stop using suspect to mean "a person who has committed a criminal act."

If a criminal act has been committed, you have a robber, a burglar, a shooter, an assailant, or, if you absolutely must mimic cop speak, a perpetrator. You do not yet have a suspect.

But if police take someone into custody, or announce that they are searching for a named person in connection with the crime, you have a suspect. A suspect is a specific person on whom suspicion has been cast.

When you have a name, then you have a suspect.

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