SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – San Francisco police will stop publishing mug shots of arrested persons unless they pose a threat to the public to stop the perpetuation of racist stereotypes, the city police chief said Wednesday.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott and outside law enforcement experts said they believe the department would be the first in the nation to do so due to concerns about racial prejudice.
The accounting photos taken by the police when a person is arrested for a crime are often made public, regardless of whether the person is being prosecuted for the alleged crime or not. That can undermine the presumption of innocence and help maintain stereotypes, experts said.
“This is just a small step, but we hope others will consider it too,” said Scott.
Big cities like Los Angeles and New York already have policies against posting posting photos, but make exceptions. For example, the New York City Police Department, the largest in the country, publishes information about arrests but does not issue mug shots unless investigators believe it will cause more witnesses to come forward or to help find a suspect help. Georgia and New York have stopped posting posting photos to restrict websites asking people to remove their pictures and posting information.
Jack Glaser, a public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies racial stereotypes and whose work has consulted with Scott, said data shows that arrested blacks are more likely to have their cases turned down by prosecutors.
“This is possibly just part of the same problem where the police will stop and search the blacks at a lower suspicion threshold, and therefore their arrests are more likely to be unfounded,” Glaser said.
But the mug shots live on.
Numerous websites will post the mug shots regardless of whether someone has been convicted of a crime, and then charge a fee to those who want their photo removed. The phenomenon prompted the California attorney general to charge one of the largest operators with extortion, money laundering and identity theft.
Scott said this is helping Americans create an unfair association between people of color and criminal. The adoption of the new policy is part of an effort to stop the spread of negative minority stereotypes, which Scott, the black, experienced when he was out of uniform.
“You go into a department store and are followed and the security service looks at you suspiciously. I’ve seen that, ”said Scott.
In San Francisco, the only exceptions will be when a crime suspect poses a threat or when officials need help locating a suspect or person at risk, Scott said. According to the policy, the publication of photos or information about a person who has been arrested must also be approved by the Police Department’s PR team.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said not every department cracking down on the publication of mug shots gives a reason. The San Francisco Police Department is the first he knows is implementing policies to stop racial prejudice, he said.
He said preventing mug shots of suspects from being published on television shows and elsewhere should be part of a major judicial reform in the country.
“For a democratic society we are very unconcerned about human rights and the presumption of innocence,” said O’Donnell. “We are stealing freedom from people and ruining people’s reputations before anyone has ever made a decision about whether or not the person committed the crime.”
Nina Salarno, president of the Crime Victims United of California advocacy group, praised Scott’s efforts to address racial prejudice but expressed concern about how the department will decide which photos to publish. She said posting posting photos can help crime victims come forward.
“The only concern for the victims side is how they categorize and who decides which ones to release to the public.” Asked Salarno.
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