Law enforcement agencies in New York can no longer release mugshots. The NY mugshot law requires withholding a majority of mugshots from general public distribution.
The concept of secret policing in the US might seem a little scary and even farfetched. However, when it comes to New York, this debate is real.
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NY Mugshot Ban
Because of the efforts of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state of New York imposed a “mugshot ban” on its books.
Also, note that the state passed a complete ban on the release of almost all booking information from law enforcement and police agencies.
For reasons that were not fully explained and elaborated, the governor of New York decided last year that mugshots of criminals, such as murderers and rapists, did not belong in the public arena.
Reasons for the Enactment of the NY Mugshot Law
The New York Mugshot law is part of a wide-ranging government effort in the state to make life easier and simpler for criminals. The law comes at a time when crimes, such as rapes and murders, are at their historic lows in the state.
Mugshot legislation perturbed many media organizations in New York. In addition, when experts read the bill, they found several loopholes, which is a real cause of concern for New Yorkers.
Compliance with the New York Mugshot Law
State police stated that they would restrict the release of mugshots of criminals arrested by troopers to comply with the new law. They also stated that compliance with the New York Mugshot Law would help investigations.
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Third-Party Mugshot Websites and Online Public Shaming
The NY Mugshot Law came into effect after government officials in New York realized that many mug shot websites take and post the photographs online. They then charge money from the individual in the photos in exchange for taking them down.
The government officials stated that the mugshot ban will address a genuine issue: an aggressive type of online public shaming in which the so-called “pay-to-remove” sites collect the booking photos of arrestees from various New York law enforcement agencies through FOIL requests.
These websites posted the photographs online and then charged arrestees an exorbitant fee for taking your mugshots down.
Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal initially suggested the idea of making almost all arrest booking information, such as age and height, an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s internet privacy.
However, the New York State Legislature finally reached a compromise by amending Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
The legislature gave law enforcement agencies, such as police, discretion on whether to release mugshots or not. However, all of the remaining booking information in a standard arrest, including name, address, age, and offense, still remains public information.
This proposal became part of various state budget bills and received approval from the Assembly as well as the Senate.
Dubbed a “mugshot ban” by many, different law enforcement agencies in the state are interpreting the change in different ways. The bill leads to a patchwork of different standards throughout New York.
The View of News Organizations
News organizations opine that the residents of New York have the right to know (as well as see) who police and law enforcement agencies are arresting.
This reason is why holding back any information, such as mugshots, on the operation of governmental agencies does a major disservice to the people whom the government serves.
News organizations have a responsibility and duty to use information released by law enforcement and public safety agencies in a judicious and responsible manner.
When New York Mugshots Can Be Released
Specifically, the New York Mugshot Law allows the release of mugshots to the public and news organizations if the release of the photos will serve a particular law enforcement purpose.
However, the problem is that the law offers no guidance regarding what specific law enforcement purpose actually means, which leaves ambiguity.
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This is why the response to this law from police varies from place to place. For example, in the Rochester region, spokespersons for Rochester, as well as Greece police departments, stated those agencies would stop releasing mugshots immediately.
Moreover, the law allows law enforcement personnel to determine when disclosure or release of mugshots is reasonable and prudent given a particular law enforcement purpose.
In essence, the law allows police and law enforcement agencies in New York to withhold mugshots if they wish to, but it does not mandate them to keep them private.
Although the official position of law enforcement agencies is that they cannot issue the mugshot, this move annoyed and angered many investigators and troopers.
As a result, they surreptitiously found new ways to help news organizations get photographs of the felons they arrested.
New York Mugshot Law: Final Thoughts
We think that the Executive Budget’s proposal seems to be a well-intended and rational effort to secure and safeguard the privacy of people arrested in New York.
However, the problem is that various courts are resolving the worst practices pertaining to the publication of arrest booking information, as well as arrest photographs, which seems to make this NY mugshot law redundant.
Also, keep in mind that the measure does not take a properly balanced and objective approach to who can access or use mugshots and other arrest information.