San Francisco Police End the Public Release of Mugshots to Stop Perpetuating Racial Stereotypes

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San Francisco Police Department Facebook

When a person’s mugshot is publicized before they have been prosecuted for a crime and are presumed innocent it can have an impact on their livelihood.

Police in San Francisco will no longer release of mugshots of people arrested unless a suspect poses a public threat, a move that is part of an effort to prevent racial bias and stereotyping.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott announced the department will no longer post the photos online or release booking photos to the media. The new policy will start Wednesday.

Scott consulted Jack Glaser, a public policy professor at the University of California Berkeley who studies racial stereotyping about the decision, according to CBS San Francisco.

“This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well,” Glaser said.

When a person’s mugshot is publicized before they have been prosecuted for a crime, despite there being a presumption of innocence, it can have an impact on their livelihood, he said. Glaser added that data shows Black people who are arrested are more likely to eventually have their case dismissed.

It also further stigmatizes individuals who are convicted of a crime. 

“The end result is racial stereotypes are reinforced to the public and the arrestee, who may not even end up charged with a crime, will lose their employment prospects and face shame and stigma in the community,” Police Commissioner John Hamasaki said, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

The new policy in San Francisco will require any information or photos released on a suspect to be approved by their public relations team.

Los Angeles and New York already have policies against posting booking photos, but occasionally make exceptions.

There are a number of websites that obtain mugshots and then charge people who would like to theirs removed from the internet. In 2018, one of the alleged owners of a major mugshot site was charged with extortion by the attorney general of California for allegedly making millions through the scheme.