News and Commentary

San Francisco PD Will Stop Releasing Mugshots To Combat Racial Bias
A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) MUNI bus drives on Market Street in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Emergency ordinances that passed in San Francisco and San Jose on Tuesday would temporarily extend two weeks' paid sick leave to workers not yet covered under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that requires employees get paid sick leave for health reasons related to Covid-19.
David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Police Chief Bill Scott has ordered the San Francisco Police Department to stop releasing mugshots of suspects in an effort to combat racial bias, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

“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,” said Scott.

“By implementing this groundbreaking new policy today, 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,” continued the police chief.

In a press release, the police department said it will allow exceptions to the mugshot release policy in circumstances where the public is in “imminent danger” or when officials “enlist the public’s assistance in locating individuals, including at-risk persons.”

The police department told employees in a memo Wednesday that the new booking photo policy could help to “prevent bias in policing” and protect “justice-involved persons who are subsequently not charged or convicted” from the negative consequences associated with having their photo released.

Any mugshot that is released must first be approved by the San Francisco Police Department Media Relations team.

The policy change comes as a growing list of newsrooms across the country have also elected to stop printing mugshot galleries for similar reasons, as previously reported by The Wrap. The mugshot policy change from news organizations, however, does not affect mugshots posted alongside news stories.

“Mugshot galleries presented without context may feed into negative stereotypes and, in our editorial judgment, are of limited news value,” said Gannet, an organization that owns dozens of newspapers, in a statement announcing the removal of mugshot galleries on the remaining papers that still published them, reports Poynter. “Instead, we will focus on the best ways to inform our readers by providing relevant information that will keep our communities safe and continuing to cover crime, as well as the public safety system.”

San Francisco’s decision to stop publishing mugshots of suspects comes as the city has promoted additional changes concerning law enforcement activities.

Earlier this month, Mayor London Breed revealed four priorities she would strive for in order to change the nature of policing, including a move to stop sending police officers to respond to non-violent crimes. The police chief, who backed the reforms, called them consistent with the department’s “aspiration” to create a model for a modern era of policing across the country.

“We understand that it’s necessary for law enforcement to listen to the African American community and embrace courageous changes to address disparate policing practices, and we recognize it will take sacrifice on our part to fulfill the promise of reform,” said Scott in a statement at the time.

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