San Francisco police stop publishing mugshots ‘to end racial bias’

Police chief Bill Scott. Screenshot from YouTube

The police department in San Francisco will no longer publish mugshots of people arrested in an effort “to end racial stereotypes”, the city police chief announced on Wednesday.

San Francisco police chief Bill Scott said the ban on mugshots will take effect immediately. Photos of suspects will therefore not be given out to the media nor would officers be able to reveal the faces of criminals online unless they pose a threat to the public, the Associated Press reported.

In the US, it is standard practice to take a photo of an arrested suspect. But because most of these suspects are African Americans, the department said mugshots contributed to perpetuate racial stereotypes since Americans established an unfair association between people of colour and criminals, said Scott.

Los Angeles and New York already have policies against publishing such photos, but make exceptions. For example, the New York City Police Department, the largest in the country, only publish mugshots when investigators believe it will prompt witnesses to come forward to help find a suspect.

Scott said the release of photos or information about an arrested person must in future be approved by the public relations team of the police force.

Despite this new policy, the representation of African Americans in US official crime data paint a bleak picture. Jack Glaser, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, said new data showed that apprehended blacks were more likely to see their case dismissed by prosecutors.

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