(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF police to limit release of mugshots pre-conviction

New guidelines would broadly restrict sharing of booking photos

San Francisco police plan to stop posting mugshots online except in certain cases after facing concerns that the practice reinforces racial stereotypes and stigmatizes people who have not been convicted of a crime.

Police Chief Bill Scott has drafted a department notice to prevent officers from releasing a booking photo pre-conviction unless doing so would warn the public of “imminent danger” or help locate a person.

Scott moved forward with the proposal amid concerns about the practice from critics like Police Commissioner John Hamasaki, who called for the creation of a working group to address the issue back in February.

Hamasaki said Monday that black and brown people in disadvantaged communities, not “DUI suspects in the Marina,” are the ones being “publicly shamed” by having their mugshots posted in the news or on social media.

“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,” Hamasaki said.

While law enforcement agencies nationwide have released booking photos for decades, the practice has drawn more scrutiny since police began posting mugshots online and shady websites began charging people to remove them.

Since early 2018, Tenderloin Police Station has gained social media fame by routinely posting booking photos of suspected drug dealers and other low-level offenders. The account has more than 12,000 followers as of Monday.

The San Francisco Examiner reviewed dozens of posts on the account in April 2018 and found that around half of those pictured faced new charges. Others had their probation revoked, while at least five were not charged at all.

At the time, Capt. Carl Fabbri argued that the booking photos increased transparency by offering an “inside look” into police work. He said he did not intend to harm the housing or employment prospects of those pictured.

The proposal from Scott recognizes that “regulating the release of booking photos can help prevent the potentially negative outcome for individuals who are presumed innocent and subsequently not charged or convicted.”

It also says that “a thoughtful process” for releasing booking photos may “help mitigate or avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes which can contribute to implicit and explicit bias in policing and by community members.”

While the department notice only needs the approval of the chief, Scott plans to present the draft to the Police Commission on Wednesday. He is also scheduled to discuss the proposal at a public forum Tuesday.

The proposal has the support of Police Commission Vice President Damali Taylor. She said releasing mugshots “can be a dangerous practice that ends up perpetuating the stereotype that minorities are more likely to commit crimes.”

She also questioned the value of “educating the public that someone is a drug dealer before they have been convicted of being a drug dealer.”

“Is that a high priority?” Taylor said. “What are we doing this for?”

Among those who advocated for the change is Public Defender Manohar Raju. He said posting booking photos after an arrest “interferes with the constitutional right we all have to a fair trial.”

“And because we live in an age where an image posted online lasts forever, publishing booking photos this way causes irreparable harm—including to many who are never convicted,” Raju said.


Bay Area NewsCrimesan francisco news

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A screenshot from SFPD body worn camera
New videos show police shooting man armed with knife, frying pan

Police say Antonio Estrada set fire to apartment building before shooting

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, said he expected San Francisco to enter the purple tier within days.
Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner
SF still in the red but expects move into purple tier ‘some time soon’

Four more counties moved into highest COVID-19 risk category by state

The area near the Castro Muni Metro Station is expected to be affected by construction work on the Twin Peaks Tunnel, with lane closures on Market Street and some loss of parking. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Construction on Twin Peaks Tunnel to begin November 30

Area around Castro Muni Station will see greatest impacts including lane closures on Market Street

Cal Junior Quarterback Chase Garbers completed 28 of 42 passes 315 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions in his last game against Oregon State. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
The Big Game: Stanford at Cal

What: The 123rd Big Game When: Friday, 1:30 p.m. Where: Memorial Stadium,… Continue reading

Most Read