On The Publishing of Mugshots

Imagine you get arrested for a crime you did not commit, it happens. After the police take your mug shot your face appears in your local paper’s crime section/police beat. Its caption neglects to mention you are guilty until proven innocent and no opportunity is given to explain why you might not be guilty. It simply publishes your picture alongside several other guilty-looking people in the crime section of the paper. It may take years to get over the nightmare realization that everyone you know will see these images including employers and potential employers. For most people, the arrest is a heart-stopping experience, but now it just got a whole lot worse.

There can be compelling reasons for publishing a mug shot, capital murder, corruption by public officials, searches for suspects, but it is the context of how these images are published that makes the difference. Context is what concerns most people, minorities most of all. In some papers, mugshots seem nothing more than clickbait, an opportunity to grab more advertising profit. The Alligator stopped including mugshots in its articles in May. “Telling stories about local crime without using mugshots can keep the community informed without perpetuating prejudices against historically overpoliced communities”, said Christian Ortega, editor-in-chief of The Alligator.

In Florida things are slowly improving, in 2017 Rick Scott signed, senate bill 118. The law requires “that within ten calendar days of receiving a written request by the person in the photograph or his or her legal representative, the publisher of the photograph must remove the photograph.”  Unfortunately, the internet never really forgets anything, copies remain. Once an image is online, it can be removed from a site but it’s nearly impossible to remove from the greater web.

The Gannet newspaper chain changed its policy on mugshots and no longer carries them.  Many newsrooms are rethinking their use of mugshots but extensive use still exists in local papers in Florida.

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