News

New state law prohibits law enforcement from posting mugshots on social media

AB 1475 applies to images of nonviolent crime suspects

A new state law curtails when cops can post mugshots on social media. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Police departments across California will no longer be able to splash mugshots over social media following a big arrest, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new state law last week clamping down on what cops can publicize about suspects who have only been accused of crimes.

The law, AB 1475, prevents law enforcement agencies from posting mugshots of people arrested for nonviolent crimes on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The bill's author, Assembly member Evan Low, D-Campbell, drafted the bill after what he described as an alarming trend where police and sheriff's departments were posting mugshots in order to "shame" suspects, with no real public safety purpose behind the postings.

These photos are posted before formal charges have even been filed against the suspect, and Low argued that the coerced photos — often at a moment of crisis, embarrassment and despair — affixes guilt to the person before they have gone through due process.

"These mug shots are often unflattering and do nothing to warn the public of an ongoing public safety threat, as the suspect is already in custody at the time of posting. Instead, their purpose is to shame and ridicule," Low wrote in a statement to the Senate Committee on Public Safety.

Law enforcement agencies and news media have regularly published mugshots for years, but what's changed is the reach of social media and the quick dissemination of arrestee photos. Low said these mugshots can have "devastating consequences," noting one incident in which a Native American man was wrongfully arrested yet he was still placed on administrative leave by his employer when the mugshot was posted. More broadly, Low said these mugshots can also perpetuate racial stereotypes, overstating the propensity of communities of color to commit crimes.

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Last year, the San Francisco Police Department stopped releasing the mugshots for most people that officers arrest, with Police Chief Bill Scott noting that the change was made with racial justice in mind.

"This policy emerges from compelling research suggesting that the widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior," Scott said in a statement following the decision.

AB 1475 has some exceptions. Along with violent crimes, police can post mugshots on social media if the suspect is a fugitive or an imminent threat to public safety, or if the photo could help locate and detain the suspect. There's also a broad exemption for "exigent circumstances" to allow for posting mugshots on social media.

The Mountain View Police Department, which has long been active on social media platforms, will comply with AB 1475 moving forward but will still publish booking photos and mugshots in cases that are of keen interest to the community, said police spokeswoman Katie Nelson. She said the department will also honor public records requests for booking photos, which are not affected by the new law.

In an update posted Monday on its website, the Palo Alto Police Department stated it would follow the new law. The agency is still preparing its internal procedures to comply with the law, Lt. James Reifschneider told this news organization in an email. "We expect to have those procedures finalized in the near future," he wrote.

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The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office already has a policy that complies with AB 1475.

"Our general policy is to only release mugs if there is a public safety reason to do it or we believe there are additional victims to find," said Sean Webby, spokesman for the District Attorney's Office.

Supporting AB 1475 is the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the practice of publishing mugshots on Facebook "flies in the face" of the premise that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The California Public Defenders Association also backed the law, arguing that criminal defense attorneys frequently have to deal with "unfettered pretrial publicity" that can lead to wrongful convictions by way of biased identification and prejudice among jury pools. And even if an arrestee is found not guilty, the publishing of mugshots can still be harmful.

"Our clients whose cases are dismissed, successfully win at trial, or are fully rehabilitated are still stigmatized by their past publicity on the internet," the group said in a statement. "The passage of AB 1475 would be a significant step towards protecting the presumption of innocence for California's residents."

Though AB 1475 is not retroactive in the sense that law enforcement agencies must take down old mugshots that do not comply with the law, it does permit a person to request for removal of past photos that have been published. Police and sheriff's departments will be required to remove photos if the person is found not guilty, has had their records sealed or has had their conviction dismissed, pardoned or expunged.

The law passed the state Assembly and state Senate with no votes in opposition.

Many news agencies, including the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly, have adopted policies in recent years not to publicize names and mugshots of suspects who have been arrested and have not been formally charged by the District Attorney's Office. Exceptions include arrests for a major violent crime or arrests following extensive police or FBI investigations.

The Associated Press announced last month that it would no longer name suspects in minor crime stories, conceding that the publication's coverage rarely follows up with the outcome of these cases and does not reflect whether charges were later dropped or reduced.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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New state law prohibits law enforcement from posting mugshots on social media

AB 1475 applies to images of nonviolent crime suspects

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 28, 2021, 9:36 am
Updated: Wed, Jul 28, 2021, 4:18 pm

Police departments across California will no longer be able to splash mugshots over social media following a big arrest, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new state law last week clamping down on what cops can publicize about suspects who have only been accused of crimes.

The law, AB 1475, prevents law enforcement agencies from posting mugshots of people arrested for nonviolent crimes on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The bill's author, Assembly member Evan Low, D-Campbell, drafted the bill after what he described as an alarming trend where police and sheriff's departments were posting mugshots in order to "shame" suspects, with no real public safety purpose behind the postings.

These photos are posted before formal charges have even been filed against the suspect, and Low argued that the coerced photos — often at a moment of crisis, embarrassment and despair — affixes guilt to the person before they have gone through due process.

"These mug shots are often unflattering and do nothing to warn the public of an ongoing public safety threat, as the suspect is already in custody at the time of posting. Instead, their purpose is to shame and ridicule," Low wrote in a statement to the Senate Committee on Public Safety.

Law enforcement agencies and news media have regularly published mugshots for years, but what's changed is the reach of social media and the quick dissemination of arrestee photos. Low said these mugshots can have "devastating consequences," noting one incident in which a Native American man was wrongfully arrested yet he was still placed on administrative leave by his employer when the mugshot was posted. More broadly, Low said these mugshots can also perpetuate racial stereotypes, overstating the propensity of communities of color to commit crimes.

Last year, the San Francisco Police Department stopped releasing the mugshots for most people that officers arrest, with Police Chief Bill Scott noting that the change was made with racial justice in mind.

"This policy emerges from compelling research suggesting that the widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior," Scott said in a statement following the decision.

AB 1475 has some exceptions. Along with violent crimes, police can post mugshots on social media if the suspect is a fugitive or an imminent threat to public safety, or if the photo could help locate and detain the suspect. There's also a broad exemption for "exigent circumstances" to allow for posting mugshots on social media.

The Mountain View Police Department, which has long been active on social media platforms, will comply with AB 1475 moving forward but will still publish booking photos and mugshots in cases that are of keen interest to the community, said police spokeswoman Katie Nelson. She said the department will also honor public records requests for booking photos, which are not affected by the new law.

In an update posted Monday on its website, the Palo Alto Police Department stated it would follow the new law. The agency is still preparing its internal procedures to comply with the law, Lt. James Reifschneider told this news organization in an email. "We expect to have those procedures finalized in the near future," he wrote.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office already has a policy that complies with AB 1475.

"Our general policy is to only release mugs if there is a public safety reason to do it or we believe there are additional victims to find," said Sean Webby, spokesman for the District Attorney's Office.

Supporting AB 1475 is the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the practice of publishing mugshots on Facebook "flies in the face" of the premise that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The California Public Defenders Association also backed the law, arguing that criminal defense attorneys frequently have to deal with "unfettered pretrial publicity" that can lead to wrongful convictions by way of biased identification and prejudice among jury pools. And even if an arrestee is found not guilty, the publishing of mugshots can still be harmful.

"Our clients whose cases are dismissed, successfully win at trial, or are fully rehabilitated are still stigmatized by their past publicity on the internet," the group said in a statement. "The passage of AB 1475 would be a significant step towards protecting the presumption of innocence for California's residents."

Though AB 1475 is not retroactive in the sense that law enforcement agencies must take down old mugshots that do not comply with the law, it does permit a person to request for removal of past photos that have been published. Police and sheriff's departments will be required to remove photos if the person is found not guilty, has had their records sealed or has had their conviction dismissed, pardoned or expunged.

The law passed the state Assembly and state Senate with no votes in opposition.

Many news agencies, including the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly, have adopted policies in recent years not to publicize names and mugshots of suspects who have been arrested and have not been formally charged by the District Attorney's Office. Exceptions include arrests for a major violent crime or arrests following extensive police or FBI investigations.

The Associated Press announced last month that it would no longer name suspects in minor crime stories, conceding that the publication's coverage rarely follows up with the outcome of these cases and does not reflect whether charges were later dropped or reduced.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Local Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Jul 28, 2021 at 10:54 am
Local Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 10:54 am

Good law. I never understood why police departments could post individuals photos after being arrested without due process. It essential brands someone as guilty before trial.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 28, 2021 at 11:26 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 11:26 am

Why? Are they saying that we should wait until after a trial or plea? Then, law enforcement can plaster their photos all over social media?

Most of the time, the issue is public safety. If a suspect is still at large, then society has a right to know who to look for.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:03 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:03 pm

Sounds like a good law that will protect the innocent.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:04 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:04 pm

I'm reminded of watching Dan Abrams on MSNBC in the mid 90s having a conversation with a lawyer. "To say that people are innocent until proven guilty is saying the police consistently get it wrong." It was his show, but come on Dan. You're a lawyer, and you're very liberal. They went to commercial...


Hinrich
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:24 pm
Hinrich, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:24 pm

"..the widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior"

The public not only has right to see who is being arrested but needs to see these images to understand who is committing crimes in the community. The media has recently sensationalized 'racism' but the facts do not support charges that the public is either broadly racist or a system that is systematically racist. This law intends to erase the faces of crime to hide detail. [Portion removed.]

We need to see who is charged with and who is committing crime. Old. Young. Latino. White. Black. Asian. This informs the citizenry. CA and the ACLU is simply trying to hide information. Who just robbed the mall? Who broke into the Apple store? We need to see who is getting arrested. If we don't trust the courts to determine guilt, that's another story but the public must retain the right to know. Big media has caused a lot of damage lately but the solution isn't hiding information from the public.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:36 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Under US law, people are considered innocent until proven guilty. This new law seems consistent with that fundamental principal of law in our country. Being arrested does not mean one is guilty. Further, once a guilty person has been arrested, they are no longer a danger to the public. Posting mug shots after arrest seems unnecessary and could be harmful to those who are wrongly accused.

I value the work police do for our community, but they are people and they sometimes make mistakes and sometimes there may be bad actors in their ranks (as can happen in any organization). The law protects all of us from these possibilities. That's a good thing, in my view.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:46 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:46 pm

I don't believe in hiding information from the public, and I don't believe in public shaming either. Public shaming is what happens when too much information is posted on the internet. The internet wasn't designed as a harassment tool.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2021 at 1:04 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 28, 2021 at 1:04 pm

The old idea of mugshots and even pictures on Wanted posters, is outdated in the internet world.

Someone wanted for a crime, someone arrested, having their picture put on the internet, means that it never goes away. Even if innocent, that picture, the public naming, will remain there.

This will protect the innocent and particularly in cases where the crime is sensationalized or has a sensitive nature, it is a good thing. An innocent person, proved innocent in court, or by subsequent evidence nullifying a charge, should be able to return to their anonymous life.


Hinrich
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2021 at 7:46 am
Hinrich, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 29, 2021 at 7:46 am

While I agree with the privacy concerns, there may be a bigger concern of government operating in the dark. There is a fine line between government limiting information as an investigation begins and routinely blocking the public's view of it's activities. Protecting the public from forming negative prejudices against one group or another is government trying to control ideas. That isn't good. Social media and the so-called press routinely exploit everything - trial by Twitter and trial by TV is a very real problem but we should be very cautious about encouraging censorship. As we protect privacy, which is very important, we also don't want the government hiding information 'in our best interest' that can just as well reveal the injustice of an arrest or charge to a public aware of the events of the day. PAO - to their credit - seem to take a fair approach.


David, PA Hills
Registered user
Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 30, 2021 at 10:42 pm
David, PA Hills, Palo Alto Hills
Registered user
on Jul 30, 2021 at 10:42 pm

I have one for you, don’t commit a crime and you will never have to worry about having your picture plastered. Same applies to the no bail, if you can’t afford bail don’t commit a crime.


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