What do real Sheriffs think about the online mug shot extortion industry?
Websites like mugshots.com take advantage of every opportunity to wrap their operation in an aura of legitimacy. These sites often resort to using Sheriff Joe Arpio of Maricopa County, Arizona as justification of their actions. Sheriff Joe, as many police agencies do, posts the pictures of the jail inmates online in the Sheriffs arrest and inmate roster. Sheriff Joe then operates a negative publicity campaign looking for the funniest inmate picture. Sheriff Joe has done some good, but Sheriff Joe’s civil rights record is deplorable. Sheriff Joe was sued for feeding inmates moldy and rotten food and denying inmates necessary and needed medical care. If I were to look for a Sheriff to justify an extortion scheme, I would look for a better example than that of Sheriff Joe Arpio.
Sheriff Gary Raney, Ada County Sheriff, Boise Idaho, began posting inmate pictures online in 2003. At the time, Sheriff Raney believed that he was doing a public service in providing the community a list of arrestees, an easy way to determine if a person was in jail, and for what charges. On release from incarceration, the information and the pictures were removed from the online roster. The jail-booking roster became popular and has 200,000 unique visitors each month.
Sheriff Raney is now considering eliminating that jail-booking website. As it was reported in the Associated Press on February 29, 2012:
“Businesses such as BoiseMugshots.com, Mugshots.com and arrestcentral.com “scrape,” or automatically grab information from, websites like Ada County’s arrest log, post the photos on their sites and then link to other Web businesses that charge $99 and more for removal.”
In the case of mugshots.com and many other sites, the cost to remove a photograph is not $99, but rather $399 per mugshot.
Sheriff Raney is quoted:
“I really have heartburn over this,” Raney said. “What we do serves a purpose. What they do is self-serving profiteering. … It’s distasteful, extortion-like activity. That is not our intent at all.”
Sheriff Kirk Taylor of Pueblo, Colorado is removing his online booking photographs because he feels that websites like mugshots.com are exploiting people and misusing public records for unauthorized monetary gain. Sheriff Taylor is quoted on February 3, 2012:
“Once we determined that this was being exploited for monetary gain by a private company, we had to take a second look at it.
Some might say these offenders don’t need any favors, but the photos aren’t just of accused killers and rapists–some never appeared in court or didn’t pay a ticket. “There’s one example of a guy getting booked in for a $75 dog at large ticket. He just forgot to pay. He gets booked in and then turns around and has to pay $100 to get his photo taken off this PuebloMugShots.com, it just wasn’t in the best interest of this community.”
Sheriff Taylor investigated his local mug shot extortion swindle and found that the firm operates from Belize and that his office is unable to pursue criminal charges against that extortion agency.
On Sunday, May 22, 2011, there was a beating at the Los Angles Stadium. One man was arrested and another was suspected in the beating. A photograph of the suspect was leaked to the news media. The police in that investigation were understandably upset when the photo was released because it compromised an ongoing investigation. “In an attempt to minimize the chances that witnesses would see the photo, the department rushed to contact news outlets, asking those that had posted the image to remove it and requesting others to refrain from doing so until after the lineups.”
“When news organizations receive leaked materials, they have an ethical obligation to weigh the newsworthiness of that material against potential harm. There’s no way of knowing whether the radio station website or television station that briefly published the images did that kind of review, but both pulled the photo after hearing from police. The Los Angeles Times also announced that it would not publish the photo.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees suspects a fair trial. That means police and prosecutors have a duty to conduct a fair investigation and not to poison the jury pool. The First Amendment, on the other hand, gives the news media a free hand in publishing virtually any truthful content, largely independent of its potential impact on a fair trial.
In this case, both law enforcement and the news media did their jobs. The police tried to protect the integrity of the investigation and the news media decided to post – and then to pull – the mugshot. The key is that the decision not to publish came after a conversation, not coercion.”
Ali Dabri of the West Virginia state Office of Technology recently made changes that hamper the online mugshot and extortion industry’s ability to download, or scrape, the booking photographs from the Regional Jail website. The choice to restrict how a photograph is downloaded was made in response to the extortionate activities of the online mugshot and mugshot remove scam. Mr. Dabri’s concerns are based on the facts that booking information contains the names addresses, and other personal information, the photographs are removed from the regional jails site when the inmate is released, the images are under public copyright, the site they are concerned with, wvjails.info, will not remove the photographs until that site is paid it’s blackmail fee. Mr. Dabri also claims that each website that downloads those photographs for commercial gain is stealing from the public. To date, wvjails.info has stolen 3.3 million dollars of booking photographs from the regional jails. This does not take into consideration the amount of money that other websites like mugshots.com has also stolen. While the mugshot extortion racket is claiming that they have a First Amendment right to publish those booking photographs, Mr. Dabri states that the right to publish those photographs is not inalienable. Mr. Dabri also suggests that people could sue the websites for invasion of privacy and “Potential identity theft.”
We see that many police agencies do not support posting of online pictures and mugshots. Many police agencies recognize that there are serious implications for police investigations and for the individuals whose pictures are posted by legitimate news media. Online extortion by the online mugshot and mugshot removal industries is one of those problems.