San Francisco to Keep Mug Shots Private in Anti-Bias Move

In a move aimed at reducing implicit racial bias in policing, San Francisco police will block public release of most mug shots, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The department’s directive, which took effect immediately, blocks release of booking photos except when publication will warn the public of danger or aid in finding a suspect or victim. Chief Bill Scott said publishing mug shots “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.”

Civil rights lawyer Michael Haddad, who has sued police for rights violations, applauded the “long overdue” move because of how mug shots foster a presumption of guilt. David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said state open-records laws are unclear on the status of booking photos, but he argued their release has benefits, such as revealing abuse of suspects in custody. Mug shots have been at the center of controversies in recent years — particularly when published in galleries that may disproportionately include Blacks and Latinos, or on websites that charge people to have their photos removed.