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San Francisco PD announces plans to stop releasing mugshots because of racial bias fears

The San Francisco Police Department just announced that it will no longer be releasing mugshots over concerns of perpetuating racial bias. From now on, mugshots in the California city will only be released if the arrested individual poses a threat to public safety.

Chief Bill Scott explained that publishing the names and faces of people who are arrested on social media or in the news “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,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle [1].

He added that he made the decision to stop releasing mugshots after hearing concerns from members of the community, police officers, the public defender’s office, and prosecutors. He said his personal experiences were taken into consideration as well. “Now, these are photos that were supplied by law enforcement, but that illustrates the point,” Scott said. “When you see that enough, some people can start associating groups of people with criminal activity and crime, which leads to another whole host of problems — stereotyping.”

Scott went on to add that he thinks his department is the first in the country to take this action, and he hopes others will follow suit. “This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well,” he said.

Scott consulted the research of Jack Glaser, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, who said that the data shows that black people are more likely to have their cases dismissed. “That may be just part and parcel of the same issue that police will stop and search Blacks at a lower threshold of suspicion in the first place and so, their arrests are more likely to be unsubstantiated,” he said.

Legal experts have said that mugshots are typically released whether or not the person is prosecuted for the crime they are arrested for, according to the Associated Press [2]. These experts suggested that releasing these mugshots publicly oftentimes undermines the presumption of innocence.