San Francisco Sheriff officers stand outside of City Hall at a protest calling for an end to racial injustice and accountability for police in San Francisco, June 20, 2020.
San Francisco Sheriff officers stand outside of City Hall at a protest calling for an end to racial injustice and accountability for police in San Francisco, June 20, 2020.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said Wednesday that his department will reduce how often mugshots are released of people who have been arrested. 

Up to now, photographs have been publicly available and posted on the police department’s Twitter account. The new policy requires photos to be posted only if an individual poses a threat to the public or if police need assistance locating an at-risk individual. Scott said the change is an effort to mitigate racial bias.

Jack Glaser, a consultant to Scott and a public policy professor at the University of California Berkeley who researches racial stereotyping, told the Associated Press data shows Black people who are arrested are more likely to have their cases dismissed by prosecutors.  However, many of those arrested find that their mugshots remain available even after their case has been dismissed. 

Several unofficial websites post the pictures and charge fees to have them taken down, a moneymaking tactic that has been condemned. California’s attorney general recently charged the owners of one of the largest such sites with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.

The public availability of mugshots after the individual has been either convicted or released from custody contributes to Americans making an unfair association between people of color and crime, Scott said.

“This is just one small step but we hope this will be something that others might consider doing as well,” he said. 

The California city joins other cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, in enacting more limits on police booking photos. Similar to the SFPD’s new policy, the New York Police Department only releases mugshots when there is cause to believe that doing so would prompt new witnesses to come forward or otherwise aid the case. 

Under SFDP’s policy, the release of photos or information on a person who is arrested will also require approval from the police department’s public relations team, Scott said.