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Why BikePortland no longer posts mugshots

Posted by on November 17th, 2020 at 4:57 pm

I haven’t posted mugshots here on the Front Page for many years now. I don’t recall the exact date but I remember it being an intentional decision.

More recently, major newsrooms around the country have also started to question the practice. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my reason for not posting these arrestee photos was because it just didn’t feel right. People sometimes make bad decisions, or they’re in a bad place in life and they get caught up in bad stuff. I don’t want to be a part of a culture that kicks people when they’re down or that wishes harm on someone because of a bad decision they made — especially when they’ve been caught by a system that is set up to prey on poor people, those who live on the streets, and people with dark-colored skin.

Why am I sharing this now? Because of an email I received on Saturday.

“Hi, my name is Jolene (not her real name) and I would like to request that one of your articles be taken down,” it read. “When my name is Googled,” she continued, “your article with the mugshot come up immediately. It is a painful and ugly reminder of a life I have worked hard to come back from.”

She went on:

“In 2012, I was in the lowest point in my life. I had fallen from a really good and stable life in to a life of drugs, addiction, and peril. I have since paid all restitution, as well as served time in jail, and graduated rehab. My life turned back to the one I was supposed to have! I climbed out of addiction and in to a productive life that I am proud of. I have a family now and started our own business that employs many people. I am very proud of what I have become.”

I didn’t even think twice. I was happy to edit the story. I was also glad to hear how Jolene had turned her life around. Stories like hers are important to keep in mind as we deal with crime and policing issues.

Coincidentally about one month ago I reached out to a source at the Portland Police Bureau about this exact issue. I asked if they’d consider no longer sharing mugshots in online postings of minor crimes. They were open to the idea but unwilling at the moment. They said it’s a public safety issue and the community needs to know these faces. I can see the PPB perspective, but BikePortland isn’t the police.

As with all my editorial policies, I reserve the right to change as my views evolve and to consider each situation on a case-by-case basis. If you have any feedback, I’m happy to hear it. I’ll extend the same open mind to you that I extended to Jolene.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Brent Logan
Guest

Maybe it’s time to go back and remove all those mugshots. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Jolene to accomplish everything she has with her mugshot easily searchable. Maybe there are others trying to turn the corner facing the same issues.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

My local newspaper, the Greensboro (NC) News & Record, has a policy of not showing mug shots of either the alleged perpetrator nor the victim(s) until the case goes to trial. Then they’ll show a mug of the perpetrator, but usually not the victim. By then a grand jury has reviewed the evidence and now a regular jury and prosecutor is trying the case. (A lot of cases never make it past the grand jury process.) But the main reason they don’t publish the photos is that although our greater community is about 60% white, about 95% of both the victims and the perpetrators are Black.

(And on an unrelated note, if you read our local obituary pages, scholarship pages, or neighborhood events and looked at the pictures for each, you would be convinced that our community was 99% white. And rich.)

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Those points aren’t unrelated at all.
(Also, I know you didn’t mean to say “mug shots” of the victims, but that’s how it reads.)

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

Yes, the truth has become increasingly uncomfortable to some people.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

What is truth?

Pascaul Perrin
Guest
Pascaul Perrin

I generally agree with you. Due to the everlasting nature of the internet one can become branded by one mistake. In days gone past if your mugshot was in the newspaper after a few months it mostly disappeared. Sure one could go to the library and pore through microfiche to find it but that was a huge effort so mostly people could move on from their mistakes. I think there still remains utility in publishing mugshots so I disagree with a blanket policy of not publishing. Mugshots can help find witnesses to a crime and warn community members re: violent offenders. That being said maybe any published mugshots should “sunset” after a given period of time (say 3 years).

rick
Guest
rick

Who killed Harley Rocher from Washington County?

setha
Subscriber
setha

I gave this comment a thumbs up. Then I realized that unless you are from around here, you probably don’t know the story.

The scene of Harley Rocher’s murder is less than a mile from my house. I ride past that spot regularly. Somebody maintains a small memorial there.

Here’s a story about Harley:

https://pamplinmedia.com/bvt/15-news/208085-65475-police-seek-tips-in-2013-fatal-hit-and-run-case

This is behind a paywall that’ll let you read it if you register. A summary: “It’s been more than a year since Rocher was walking home from work on Jan. 15, 2013. He was struck and killed just before 8 p.m. on Southwest Laurelwood Avenue.”

Some people don’t like signing up for websites like this. So, here’s another link that isn’t paywalled, but it’s on Facebook and it’s by the Beaverton Police:

https://www.facebook.com/BeavertonPoliceDepartment/posts/we-havent-forgotten-about-harley-have-youtwo-years-ago-today-at-about-757-pm-har/889982867690942/

Yes, this second link is on Facebook, and many people don’t like Facebook. And it’s by the Beaverton police, and many people don’t like police.

Say tomorrow, the hit and run driver in this case finally comes forward and admits guilt. Or, there’s some scientific breakthrough and they are able to match the teal paint left on Harley with a specific batch of paint and a set of cars that got painted with that paint. And that results in an arrest of the driver.

I want to see the mugshot, and bp should publish that mugshot. If the driver committed one act of traffic violence that resulted in a death, they probably committed other acts of traffic violence which were not as severe. Publishing the mugshot means other victims can potentially recognize the perpetrator and know to come forward.

qqq
Guest
qqq

I heard a radio show about a project that helped people get articles about them scrubbed from internet searches. The reasoning was identical to yours. Someone does something stupid (often tied with addiction or hitting personal life crises points) gets arrested, and gets a news article published that haunts them forever after in google searches. There was an application and review process, and it worked for many people. The common solution was for the news source to agree to drop the article from their online records, so it couldn’t appear in searches. The continued presence of the old articles generally served no relevant purpose.

One person interviewed said the worst impact of the internet presence was to his adult daughter. They were the only people in a town with their last name. Anytime she applied for a job, etc. the story of her father’s poor behavior and arrest appeared.

They also interviewed victims, in the case of crimes against other people whose articles were scrubbed. Most were OK with it. The feelings of victims was a thought-provoking aspect.

Your mugshot policy is a great step.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I totally support your decision, and I hope you extend it to not naming people who are arrested or accused of bad behavior, but have not been convicted of a crime. The newsworthiness of naming people is minimal, but the cost to them can be high, for the reasons you enumerated and others.

Accusation (or arrest) is not equivalent to guilt!

Erin
Guest
Erin

This seems like a great and fair decision. Not sure Dolly Parton will love it, but she’s also great and fair, so she’ll come around.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Because I’m sure some people won’t get that reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixrje2rXLMA

Matt
Guest
Matt

No, keep posting them. Addiction is a selfish thing. Just ask a family of someone addicted. Something tells me Jonathan leads a pretty protected life.

abomb
Guest
abomb

Is there anything wrong or bad with living a safe, calm, and “pretty protected life”? You make it sound like its a bad thing.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Oh. So expand on your theory here. I have to infer the purpose would be that the “selfish addict” is going to see their mugshot and decide that they’re going to stop being an addict?

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

Addiction is a selfish thing? I’m not sure I really know what you mean by that, but I guess in part it means recovered addicts should have their noses shoved in all the dirt of their past indefinitely? Is there a reason for this position?

Matt
Guest
Matt

I think they should be posted or not posted as decided on a case-by-case basis. Repeat offender gets arrested again for bike theft? Post ’em up. First-time accused and not caught red-handed? Probably don’t post.

I do like the idea that after a person has been convicted, served their time, and made restitution, they can apply to have their name and photo taken down by admitting guilt and asking, essentially, for forgiveness.

Now, addiction? That’s a very tricky, nuanced subject. You’re approaching it with all the grace of a sledgehammer.

Matt
Guest
Matt

And besides you’d be happy to post the mugshot of a motorist who killed someone on a bike.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

As Jolene even describes, the mugshot isn’t the issue, per se, so I think your policy is misplaced. It’s having their name searchably tied to a past misdeed that’s the problem.

I do think there is value to that information being available, however. One may make reparations for their past, but that doesn’t make it go away. Their victims never get to erase what happened. There’s no “undo”-ing a life-changing injury or death.

Here’s what I suggest as a middle ground. Leave the article and name (mugshot or not), but after one year automatically robots.txt all such articles out of public search engine view. It will disappear from people googling the perpetrator (or victim’s) name, but the record still exists. And if someone is conducting so narrow a search that they’re using the search box on BikePortland’s website, they will (and should) still find what happened.

squareman
Subscriber

That’s a good algorithm.

Commute Cycler
Guest
Commute Cycler

This comment has two points:
1. should people be able to escape their past
2. how to improve (or make harder) how to find misdeeds

To the 1st point, the challenge is a solution that works for the victim and the perpetrator. We could try to think of a new approach, or we could recognize our society’s solution: perpetrators are tried, convicted, and if guilty punished. But then they are released because they have done the punishment. I think continuing to publicize their past crimes (mistakes?) is an attempt to continue the punishment. I do not think law enforcement should forget them, but they already have systems and they don’t require the media to help.

For the 2nd point, if you agree with my 1st point, then at some point BikePortland would scrub old news to avoid continuing punishment. You could take it a step further and always try to exclude perpetrator details from search engine results. I don’t read BikePortland to find news about specific individuals nor do I care about specific individuals – I care about trends and outcomes (was the bad guy caught and punished).

This is part of a larger discussion. I also heard the NPR segment on this topic and it changed how I thought of it. Especially when I heard that there are mugshot harvesting companies that then charge people to remove them. That really changed my mind.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

1. should people be able to escape their past …

As you note, we’re walking the edges of a much larger discussion about justice and the relationship of crime and punishment within society here, but you’re arguing that completion of society’s prescribed punishment implies some right that the crime be forgotten — as least as far as it’s tied to the particular perpetrator in the eyes of the broader public — and I don’t agree with that. Punishment for significant crimes often involves removing the perpetrator from society, i.e. prison. The rationale is the perpetrator has shown they can’t or won’t operate within society. Completion of the crime’s sentence entitles the perpetrator to return to functioning within society. That implies things like opportunity for work, housing, and voting, but does not imply escaping their past or a right to be forgotten.

There is bias toward former criminals — enough that they maybe cannot meaningfully rejoin society. That’s where a site like BikePortland plays a role acting as a constant reminder and making the crime the first thing anybody is likely to learn about a reformed convict. That is the footing from which to approach…

2. how to improve (or make harder) how to find misdeeds …

It’s in the public interest to mitigate the bias toward those who have completed their sentence. If we do not, it’s likely they will fail to reintegrate with society and recede back into harmful behaviors. So the goal of a policy on “old” crime stories is bias mitigation and giving people a fair shot.

The discussion as relates to victims is a little different. It’s still about what’s the first thing anyone’s likely to learn about a person, but the victim presumably didn’t have any agency in what happened. And if they want to be forgotten in the context of such an event, I’m sympathetic to letting that happen because I don’t see any value to the public in keeping the association. But implementing a policy of “softly forgetting” for both sides makes it less likely either will need to request specific redress from BP.

So if BP is mostly news, why not just softly forget everything “old”? News by nature has a fairly short shelf life, right? I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, because as they say, “history rhymes”. It would be a disservice, I think, if it were harder to find all the old articles about CRC as the new CRC begins to ramp up (pun intended).

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

A thoughtful dialog. But I’ll be honest, whenever I see a suspect named in a news report I Facebook it to see who the monster is. I don’t know what the solution is but most people are readily searchable based of nothing more than name and location.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

As far as I can tell, there’s only 10 or so live people named David Hampsten in the USA, one of whom has a known criminal record, did his time and now lives in Texas. Thanks to the internet, the other 9 of us are all linked to him, even though we are completely unrelated. Too bad I wasn’t born John Smith.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

Do you run into this as an issue? Do you get asked about “your” criminal record? In what kinds of situations, how do you respond, and how do people react?

qqq
Guest
qqq

I knew someone named Diane Downs. She got weird reactions from people constantly. It actually helped her that the criminal one was known well enough that people knew she was in jail, so had to be a different person.

Still, she was constantly asked, “You’re not the REAL Diane Downs, are you?” She always responded, “Yes, I am”.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Yes, often it is a problem, as I’ve been unemployed for the last 12 years. In job applications and at job interviews especially, alas. Back before the internet became so widespread, potential employers would do background checks based on your social security number, and the checking cost the interviewers money, so they were careful to locate the correct person and I was easily able to get professional work. Now any idiot can “do” a background check using the internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc, often getting lots of the wrong people; I still have the social security number, of course, but they no longer use it for background checks. I have no criminal record whatsoever, not even driving violations, yet I’m asked various questions as if I am a former criminal, by interviewers who really ought to know better. It’s very frustrating.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

12 years?!

qqq
Guest
qqq

That’s a good point. It’s a much bigger issue (for both the actual criminal, and anyone with the same name) for people with uncommon names.

And you actually understate the problem, because even other people with only the same last name get stuck with it, especially if they’re in the same city.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

I agree mostly, but with one exception. My wife and I like to look at the news feeds everyday to see stories of quarantine breakers in Hawaii. She is originally from there ,and like the locals, is angered by tourists from the mainland who come to the islands and purposely break their strict quarantine laws due to selfishness. These scofflaws are commonly caught, given large fines and their mugshots posted in the paper.I believe the inconsiderate clowns who do this deserve what they get. My favorite was the guy from Clackamas County who was caught breaking quarantine while he was shooting feral chickens with a spear gun in a Honolulu neighborhood.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

That’s valuable information in the short term — you recognize who to avoid. Is it still valuable information a year from now? Five years?

hip
Guest
joan
Subscriber

This is a great decision with a lot of integrity. Thanks for sharing this.

JR
Guest
JR

I would support removing mugshots, and names. The names are what gets triggered in the internet searches, so without the mugshot, it’s not 100% certain that someone would know the article is about so-and-so. Without the full name, the searches would come up empty. Law enforcement and people (landlords, lawyers, job providers, etc) who want to conduct a criminal history search can find out this information if they need to, but to casual observers/readers, it’s not necessary info.

Donel Courtney
Guest
Donel Courtney

I think its relevant to know why you think the system “is set up to prey on poor people, those who live on the streets, and people with dark-colored skin.”

Are you meaning the criminal justice system or our entire society? Either way its a bold claim to make on multiple levels, and one that misstates critical theory.

It implies that some one or people had agency in setting the whole system up with a particular intent, when in reality, whether you are talking about the criminal justice system (which has its roots in Anglo-Saxon England prior to 1066 AD) or our entire system (which has its roots in the dawn of humanity) there is no possibility of an intent to prey on people being the primary motivating factor amongst the untold number of people who have contributed to the development of our jurisprudence or society.

Crimes of poverty are crimes no matter who commits them. They are recognized in the law according to their definition–assault means placing someone in fear of imminent harm, vehicular assault, doing so with a vehicle, theft, taking something which was property of another.

Poverty and childhood trauma likely makes someone more likely to commit such crimes, but the definition of the crime was firmly rooted in an attempt to prevent that behavior which causes harm to other people, and by extension, society. The definition of the crime was not designed with the primary intent to prey on the person committing the crime.

Without being able to recognize that all attempts to improve outcomes will fail.

dwk
Guest
dwk

You should get guest post…

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

edit: I wrote a reply to this, but then changed my mind (and it got moderated anyway).

It’s undeniable that historically (and long after 1066, dating right up through the Jim Crow era) criminal justice and society as a whole were indeed deliberately set up to prey on the disadvantaged — anybody not a white male property-owner, more or less. But attributing intent to what happens today, and trying to suss it out from persisting trans-generational inequalities is murkier and I don’t feel like debating that today.

Donel Courtney
Guest
Donel Courtney

Thank you, Jonathan and others who have contributed to explaining the other points of view on this topic. Indeed Jim Crow and chattel slavery are good examples of intentional inequality built into our system.

But as Mad Hatter explains, theres alot of other good intentions also that have been in the mix. As a half Indian who has lived there off and on for many years, I can assure you that India has its own problems with an unequal society that has nothing to do with the White/Black dynamic that still dominates our discussion even though there are so many other dynamics at play.

Globalization has made our Portland society far more unequal than it was even in the 1990s when I was in high school and rode that darn bike path for the first time.

At the moment the issue here in East Portland, or at least to me vis a vis this blog, is what to do about all the times I try to get around the East side of Portland without a car and run into some major issues with crimes of assault, vehicular and personal, and all the other stuff that seems to be getting worse and worse.

“De-policing” has two components: one obviously, de-policing but it has to go along with the residential treatment and other services that would supposedly remove these anti-social threats to our former way of life and further progress to feel safe moving around outside a car.

So far no-one is making a serious effort to provide residential treatment for these people on the bike path to achieve a long enough period of peace and comfort that they don’t keep ending up with drugs in their veins to escape the sordid reality of living on the bike path (I know how sordid it is because its two blocks away from my house.)

James S
Guest
James S

Mug shots have all been weird. Innocent until proven guilty right? I believe theyre not allowed in England for that reason, and maybe other European countries.

If someone is found guilty, then sure.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Mugshots are judge and jury with no judge. Yes, they are horrible

Pitchfork
Guest
Pitchfork

While I understand not wanting to post mug shots/photos, the larger issue is “should journalists should be white-washing history”? Didn’t we just have some serious protests trying to set the historical record straight about individuals who might not deserve their celebrated status?
I also like both (1) the policy of the Greensboro News & Record as reported by David Hampsten and (2) the proposal by MaddHatter to age-out certain information from the Big Brother search engines. The first requires a certain amount of due process to occur before the information is put out to the public. The second doesn’t scrub the public record, but it does require some serious diligence and thought to access old information. The diligence means that some quick HR-droid trying to cull the stack of resumes in front of them will never see a decade-old item, and an investigator actually working hard enough to dig that deep is probably working to integrate it into a larger body of work and it will be just one piece of the puzzle.