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A number of readers asked about the Nov. 21 article headlined “LAPD officer seriously hurt during drug probe.” The story’s opening lines: “An undercover Los Angeles police narcotics officer was seriously injured early Tuesday when he was run over by a suspected drug dealer who the officer was attempting to arrest, authorities said. Officer Tony Salazar, 37, suffered two broken legs, facial injuries and head trauma” when the suspect allegedly ran over him with a car.
As several readers asked: Why did The Times publish the name, potentially compromising the officer’s undercover status?
Dana Strunk of Redlands sent this e-mail: “Regarding the LAPD officer injured as he was hit by a car during a drug probe in Boyle Heights on Tuesday, I would like to know why the L.A. Times named the officer publicly when it was clear he was an undercover officer? Your article states that the LAPD did not release his name due to his position and that ‘officials’ did. Who are these officials? If the LAPD felt it prudent and wise to not release his name, who are you to override that and determine otherwise?”
Reporter Andrew Blankstein answered: The mayor had given the officer’s name that morning. (The mayor’s name and comments were not reported in the article.)
Richard Winton, the other reporter on the story, said that they had sent their reasoning to other readers who had also asked. Here’s their explanation.
1) His name was released publicly by the mayor, with LAPD brass there, at a news conference at the hospital, which was carried live by the various L.A. television and radio outlets. Later, at 4 p.m., the department asked the press not to use the name after it had been widely put out there by city officials.
2) Salazar was openly named, along with his role as a narcotics detective, by the LAPD in a 2006 press release detailing an incident in which he fired his weapon by accident while cleaning it.
3) In the incident reported on Nov. 21, Salazar fired his weapon at the suspect. That means under California law, the police agency is required to disclose his identity. After shootings involving SIS, among the most secretive units in the department, officials routine identify their members when they are involved in a shooting.
4) We did not release any physical description or images of him at the scene. Tony Salazar is a very common name in Los Angeles.
Deciding when to print such names varies from story to story. Says California editor David Lauter, “All these issues are fact-based. You can’t really make an abstract pronouncement on them.”