California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law this weekend to prohibit law enforcement officers from sharing mugshots of individuals arrested for nonviolent crimes into law.
Assembly Bill 1475, authored by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), would also require police departments and sheriff’s offices to remove, upon request, the booking photo of any individual arrested for being suspected of nonviolent crimes. Specifically, the photo will need to be taken down within 14 days of the request if the arrested individual’s record was sealed, if their conviction was dismissed/expunged, if they received a certificate of rehabilitation, if they were found not guilty of the crime, or if the charges were ultimately dismissed.
Assemblyman Low wrote AB 1475 largely to reduce the “assumption of guilt” that placing the photos online can give to citizens and other law enforcement officers, as well as help preserve the “presumption of innocence” when dealing with suspects.
“There’s a reason for this — to really tackle the unconscious bias that accompanies the posting of booking photos on social media sites and the assumption of guilt that accompanies it,” said Assemblyman Low of the bill. “In recent years, many departments have used their social media accounts to shame suspects arrested by officers, posting mug shots, names and alleged crimes. The publication of these mugshots does little to serve a legitimate public safety interest as suspects are already in custody.
“If a mugshot is shared with an employer, client, family or friend, this can cause personal harm. These posts can track a person for the rest of their lives.
“This is a good first step. Perhaps it can be a blueprint for us to find commonality and build on it.”
A bipartisan supported bill
AB 1475 has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support in both legislative houses since first being introduced in February. That was was proven yet again earlier this month when the bill passed the Senate 39-0 and the Assembly 74-0.
Many law enforcement groups joined with citizens groups in favor of the bill. San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, who helped oversee a similar city-wide mugshot law be implemented last year, even helped back the bill in Sacramento.
“This policy has not inhibited our efforts to locate individuals wanted for violent or any heinous crimes,” said Scott earlier this year. “Instead it increased a level of consciousness and responsibility of our police officers as guardians of the Constitution.”
Experts say that the bill will also lead to closer scrutiny of social media accounts of law enforcement organizations who show mugshots of individuals.
“A lot of them saw this as a tool to help inform the public,” explained Todd Rizzo, a former social media consultant for several police departments on the west coast, to the Globe on Monday. “But some times, especially for more rural departments, it would get really petty. Some would also complain because they were brought in for robbery, have their picture be put up on Facebook and Instagram, be released when the real criminal who did this got hauled in, and would still have their picture up.
“It really doesn’t make sense to do this to people if they aren’t ultimately guilty, and everyone from both parties agreed.”
AB 1475 will still allow the mugshots of those accused with violent crimes, those who are an imminent threat to public safety, and current fugitives from justice to be posted on law enforcement social media. The bill became an active law immediately after being signed by the Governor.
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