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Who Decides Which SFPD Mugshots Get Tweeted? 

Wednesday, Nov 11 2015
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If you're arrested by the San Francisco Police Department, your face may end up on Twitter. This year, the SFPD has tweeted 24 booking photos, including those of high-profile suspects such as Kate Steinle's alleged killer Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez and Ian Hespelt, the mustachioed bicyclist whose road rage assault went viral.

When local blogger Michael Petrelis asked the SFPD about its social media policy, a department spokesman tweeted (naturally) that booking photos are public record, and those that can be released will be. When pressed by SF Weekly, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza confirmed that there's no "official" social media policy, and that each case's investigating inspector determines which photos go public.

This haphazard approach rankles privacy watchdogs.

"When there aren't clear policies placing limits on what officers can do with our sensitive and personal information — including the posting of booking photos of potentially innocent people to social media — we set officers up to fail, by using their discretion in ways that can violate individuals' privacy and safety," says Tessa D'Arcangelew of the American Civil Liberties Union.

And innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply in the court of public opinion. Mugshots can have long, damaging lifespans online, even if the arrestee was exonerated. The New York Times reports that more than 80 websites harvest and archive mugshots. For $300 to $400, those same sites will remove a mugshot — a service akin to extortion.

As the 178 retweets of SFPD mugshots this year attests, guilt has an eager following online.

About The Author

Jeremy Lybarger

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