San Francisco Police Say Mugshots Perpetuate Racial Stereotypes

Police in San Francisco will no longer release the mugshot of most suspects online due to the department’s effort to stop perpetuating racial stereotypes, a report Wednesday said.

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CBS San Francisco reported that the time mugshots will be released to the public is when the suspect is a threat. The station spoke to a public policy professor at the University of California Berkeley who said that blacks who are arrested and then have their cases dropped are still haunted by these mugshots online, which he said contributes to the unfair association between people of color and crimes.

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John Hamasaki, the police commissioner, told the San Francisco Examiner earlier this week that minorities in disadvantaged communities are the ones who have their mugshots posted online and not the “DUI suspects in the Marina.”

“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.

Legal experts also say that these booking photos could also hamper a suspect’s chance at a fair trial because they may undermine the presumption of innocence, the Associated Press reported.

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Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the AP that the  city’s move is the correct one because “we take people’s freedom away and ruin people’s reputations before anybody’s ever made a decision as to whether or not the person committed the offense.”

Social media appeared to offer mixed reviews on the department’s decision and some accused police of putting the public at risk based on an imperfect science. Who, for example, gets to decide what mugshots do get released? Is it logical to assume a drug dealer who was arrested for selling doesn’t pose a risk to the public?

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Critics see the measure as simply the latest move by a police department to try and appease the angry mob in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

“This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said.

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