Sacramento, CA – Law enforcement officers in California can no longer legally publish mugshots online showing suspects arrested for allegedly committing so-called “nonviolent” crimes.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed off on AB 1475 on July 23, thereby forbidding police from posting the mugshots, Insider reported.
The legislation was the brainchild of California Assembly Member Evan Low (D-San Jose), who claimed that releasing such images for those accused of “nonviolent” offenses results in “unconscious bias,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Low said police needed to be forced to stop releasing the images because of “the assumption of guilt” that accompanies seeing mugshots online.
“There’s a reason for this [bill],” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “To really tackle the unconscious bias.”
Low further claimed that police have been known to post mugshots just to pick on people.
“In recent years, many departments have used their social media accounts to shame suspects arrested by officers, posting mug shots, names and alleged crimes,” he said. “The publication of these mugshots does little to serve a legitimate public safety interest as suspects are already in custody.”
Low said the mugshots police post “are often unflattering,” and declared that the true “purpose of posting these images often is to shame and ridicule suspects,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
People who view mugshots online often assume the subject is guilty, even if they haven’t been convicted, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Under the new law, police will still be permitted to release mugshots of fugitives, suspects who are thought to pose an imminent risk to public safety, and suspects accused of committing violent offenses, according to the paper.
Law enforcement agencies will also be required to remove online mugshots of people who have been accused of nonviolent offenses unless they are able to provide a compelling reason as to why leaving them online is necessary, KXTV reported.
The new law also creates a process for suspects who meet certain conditions to have their mugshots removed from social media – even if they were arrested for violent crimes, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Low found an ally in San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, who wrote a letter pushing lawmakers to support the bill.
Chief Scott said that posting mugshots online can negatively impact opportunities and reputations for those who were never charged, were found not guilty, or who have served time in prison and been reformed.
He noted that the San Francisco Police Department already restricts mugshot released for suspects accused of nonviolent offenses, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“This policy has not inhibited our efforts to locate individuals wanted for violent or any heinous crimes,” Chief Scott told the lawmakers. “Instead, it increased a level of consciousness and responsibility of our police officers as guardians of the Constitution.”
The California Public Defenders Association (CPDA) also praised the legislation, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“CPDA members can attest that unfettered pretrial publicity leads to wrongful convictions through biased identifications, prejudice within our jury pools, and decreased safety for our incarcerated clients,” the CPDA said in a letter to lawmakers.
“This bill will help free innocent individuals from fear that a simple website search will dredge up inaccurate past information that will destroy their employment opportunities,” the group added, according to KXTV.
The bill passed through the legislature without any significant opposition.
Low said passing the bill was “a good first step,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“Perhaps it can be a blueprint for us to find commonality and build on it,” he added.