Publication of Arresting Mugshots Called Into Question

Feb 17, 2017

No one wants to be arrested. But fact is it happens every day - to people who deserve it - and some who are just good folk caught up in a bad situation.

While people in that latter category may see the charges against them dropped, they’ll still have a memento of their night in jail: a mugshot automatically published on the internet for the entire world to see.

Those people may like a bill filed recently in the Florida Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee and Rep. Bobby DuBose of Fort Lauderdale.

One thing it would do is prevent daily jail mugshots from automatically being posted online - something that some media news organizations and some for-profit companies regularly do now. The bill- which has failed to pass in previous legislative sessions - also would prevent mugshot websites from charging people wanting their image scrubbed from the site.

Newspaper websites also regularly publish these mugshots, as it’s a great way to attract a lot of online traffic, said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. But these organizations also see it as a service, recording and preserving a record of what happened in a community.

“Historically, newspapers have seen themselves as record keepers,” she said.

This approach can be problematic, she said, because many times a mug shot, or a news story surrounding an arrest isn’t followed up with what happens to the defendant and the case.

“I talk to newspaper editors all the time, and I’m telling them that if you publish information about someone’s arrest, and you have absolutely no intention of telling the audience what the outcome of that case was, then you’re not actually serving the public,” she said.

Some newspapers, such as the New Haven Independent in Connecticut, have opted to focus less on the arrest. They’ve stopped publishing the names and mugshots of local residents who are arrested, unless the person is well known, or the crime itself is specifically newsworthy.

The bill Florida lawmakers are considering does not remove mugshots from Florida’s public records law. People interested in seeing arrest mugshots would have to file a public records request for them.

McBride said while she understands the idea behind the mugshot bill, it could be a dangerous move restricting access for all citizens, not just the media.