Should Police Shame Suspects on Facebook?

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Police departments increasingly are using Facebook to inform the community about what they’re doing and who they’re arresting, sometimes even adding humor to the mix. Civil rights advocates say posting mugshots and written, pejorative descriptions of suspects amounts to public shaming of people who have not yet been convicted, the Associated Press reports. “It makes them the butt of a joke on what for many people is probably their worst day,” said Arisha Hatch of Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy organization that got Philadelphia police to stop posting mugshots on its Special Operations Facebook page. “The impact of having a mugshot posted on social media for all to see can be incredibly damaging for folks that are parents, for folks that have jobs, for folks that have lives they have to come back to,” she said.

Traditionally, police have made mugshots and details on suspects available to journalists for publication, and journalists selectively choose to write stories and use mugshots based on the severity or unusual nature of the crime. Many crimes don’t get any coverage. In some communities, posting mugshots and glib write-ups has created a backlash. In South Burlington, Vt., Police Chief Trevor Whipple was in favor of posting mugshots, but he started noticing disparaging comments about everything from suspects’ hairstyles to their intelligence. The department stopped the practice after about a year. “Do we want to use our Facebook page to shame people?” Whipple said. “Legally, there’s no problem — all mugshots are public — but the question became, is this what we want to do?”

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