Today we’re announcing a change in how Planet Princeton handles mug shots of people who have been arrested in crimes, but have not gone to trial yet.
We are adopting guidelines aimed at a restrained use of mug shots in news stories in order to be fair to people and also to not reinforce racial stereotypes. This decision has been made in the context of the flawed, inconsistent justice system in our country. Racial profiling and bias in deciding who to arrest and prosecute are unfortunately still all too common, and people from lower incomes are at a disadvantage as soon as they enter the criminal justice system. In addition to these factors, mug shots live on when it comes to the Internet, making it difficult for people who have made mistakes in the past to get second chances when it comes to jobs.
Regarding fairness, many people who are arrested will end up not being convicted. Some will be found not guilty or won’t go to trial at all, while others will plead guilty to lesser charges, including misdemeanors. Readers often associate booking photos with criminal activity, and the use of the photos can imply guilt even though by law, people are considered innocent until they are proven guilty.
As readers, you will still see mug shots from time to time, but far fewer. We will still publish mug shots when we believe it serves a public safety purpose, such as potentially helping crime victims come forward or helping police identify a suspect in a crime. We will still often publish mug shots when people are convicted of certain felony crimes at the superior court level or higher. We will also still publish mug shots in cases that have high news value, for example, when the person is a public figure, such as an elected official, or when a crime is a very high-profile case.
We will not post mug shots of people arrested for prostitution, including women arrested at massage parlors. These women are often the victims of human trafficking. Also, the patrons and operators of such establishments also participated in the crimes but are often not named.
Our default will be not to include a mug shot. The three questions we will ask when deciding whether to include a mug shot with a news story are: Does adding a photo serve a public safety purpose? Could it have the potential to help other victims come forward? Does the photo have high news value? In the cases where the answer is yes, a mug shot will be used, but most of the time, the answer will be no.