San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott announced on Wednesday that his police department would stop releasing mugshots of people it had arrested to the media because it perpetuated racial stereotypes.
Chief Scott said San Francisco police officers would also be prohibited from sharing the photos online and the department would cease posting them on social media, KPIX reported.
The police chief said that the department would only release booking photos of arrestees who posed a threat to the public.
He said that sharing mugshots of individuals who have been arrested prior to trial contributed to Americans making unfair assumptions about minorities, KPIX reported.
Experts have said that releasing mugshots can undermine a defendant’s right to due process, the Associated Press reported.
“This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well,” Chief Scott said.
New York City and Los Angeles already have similar policies against releasing mugshots except for special exceptions, KPIX reported.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) only releases booking photos if detectives have reason to believe that doing so would bring forward more witnesses to a crime or help locate a suspect.
The police chief said San Francisco’s only exception would be for threats to the public or if officers need assistance tracking down a suspect or an at-risk individual, KPIX reported.
In each case, the San Francisco Police Department’s public relations team would have to approve the release of the mugshot in advance.
Chief Scott consulted with University of California – Berkeley Public Policy Professor Jack Glaser, who has researched racial stereotyping, before making the policy change at the police department, the Associated Press reported.
Glaser’s data showed that black people who are arrested were more likely than white arrestees to have their cases dismissed by prosecutors.
However, multiple websites have turned mugshots into a lucrative business by posting them on websites for all eternity, or until the person featured in the booking photo can pay to have them removed, the Associated Press reported.
California’s attorney general recently charged one such company with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft, KPIX reported.
Chief Scott claims Americans make an unfair association between black people and crime, and said he has experienced negative stereotyping of minorities when he was not wearing his police uniform, the Associated Press reported.
“You walk into a department store and you get followed around and the security is looking at you suspiciously. I’ve experienced that,” he said.
The chief said his new policy was aimed at reducing the negative stereotypes of people of color, the Associated Press reported.
Former NYPD officer and John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Eugene O’Donnell said that many departments don’t explain why they won’t release mugshots, and that to his knowledge, San Francisco PD was the first to claim it was to reduce racial bias.
But O’Donnell said he thought it was a good idea and should be part of meaningful justice reform, the Associated Press reported.
“For a democratic society, we’re very cavalier about people’s rights and the presumption of innocence,” the professor said. “We take people’s freedom away and ruin people’s reputations before anybody’s ever made a decision as to whether or not the person committed the offense.”
Victim’s rights groups have expressed concern about which pictures will be released.
Crime Victims of California United President Nina Salarno said releasing mugshots helped encourage crime victims to come forward, the Associated Press reported.
“The only concern for the victims side of it is how are they categorizing and who is deciding which ones should be released to the public,” Salarno explained.