After changing policy regarding releasing mugshots, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said that research shows the practice “fosters racial bias.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFPD chief broadly bans release of mugshots

San Francisco police will no longer release booking photos of people arrested in connection with crimes in most cases under a new policy that seeks to combat racial bias.

Police Chief Bill Scott issued a bulletin Wednesday banning the release of mugshots except to warn the public of imminent danger or to help find a missing or wanted person.

He moved forward with the policy after consulting with academics and facing calls to limit the disclosure of booking photos from critics including Police Commissioner John Hamasaki and the Public Defender’s Office.

In a statement, Scott said research suggests the widespread publication of booking photos across the nation “fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of Black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior.”

“SFPD is taking a stand that walks the walk on implicit bias while affirming a core principle of procedural justice — that those booked on suspicion of a crime are nonetheless presumed innocent of it,” Scott said.

Practically speaking, the policy means that the news media can no longer broadly obtain booking photos of those suspected of major crimes like homicide or arrested in connection with high-profile incidents.

Until now, the San Francisco Police Department released booking photos unless doing so would interfere with an investigation.

The policy also largely limits the booking photos that police can share on social media accounts like the Tenderloin Station Twitter feed, which garnered a following by sharing mugshots of suspected drug dealers and others.

“I am grateful to the chief for taking a strong stand against posting booking photos online,” said Hamasaki. “I am hopeful this will send a strong message to other departments around the country that it is well past time to stop demeaning and degrading Black and brown individuals through posting their mugshots.”

Public Defender Manohar Raju previously said his office had advocated for the change for years.

“Releasing mugshot after mugshot of mostly young men of color feeds implicit biases that exacerbate an already broken system,” Raju said in a statement last month.

An earlier iteration of the policy, which the San Francisco Examiner first reported June 15, would have allowed for the disclosure of mugshots after a person is convicted of a crime.

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