There has been a lot of talk lately about whether the newspaper should be allowed to post arrest pictures. I’m not sure when the media started posting press releases of people on what was definitely one of their worst days, but I know it was long before I got here. For me, posting mugshots to our website and running them in the paper is a mixed (mostly bad) bag. Here are three reasons why.
1.) It doesn’t help the person arrested. Okay, duh. What I mean is posting a mugshot on any website has far-reaching consequences for the person in the photo. Amos Amory or Annie Aberdeen might have been arrested for possessing narcotics. They may have even been convicted, but one day they may get their lives together enough to try and become gainfully employed, and the first thing a potential employer does when screening applicants is run a Google search on their name. Then guess what? It won’t show up that they were never convicted or that they’re sober or that they volunteer and serve in their communities. What will show up is that awful mugshot. Also, those press releases are hardly ever the whole story. Maybe Suzy Smithville had a legitimate reason for busting someone over the head. Stuff happens, people.
2.) It can bring out the worst in me. I will admit that on more then one occasion I have seen an arrest report and immediately made a judgment call against the person, as if I know anything at all about his or her life. I am even guilty of taking pleasure in the person’s character assassination and talking about them as if I have the right to speak on the faults of someone else. When I am in this place, I cheat myself out of being the human being I’m meant to be. These are not my best moments.
Other times I see the mugshot, and my heart breaks because it’s someone I love and I know I have to post it anyway. Everyone here knows the pain families feel when they see their loved ones being ripped apart on the internet because our own families and friends have been on there too, and we’re the ones who had to post them. Hands down, it’s the worst part of the job here.
3.) It can bring out the worst in you. Once we post these mugshots to our website and Facebook page, the floodgates open and it can become open season on the person in the mugshot (and everybody else, too). Maybe the first couple of comments are calling for prayers and so on but, before too long, people start to lose their minds. Someone passes a judgment, then someone else passes a judgment on the initial judgment-passer, then someone says they’ll pray for someone else (and not in the good way). It can get really messy and then, inevitably, everyone starts passing judgment on us at the paper. We’ve been accused of everything imaginable as our reason for posting mugshots, or not posting them.
To clarify, there is only one reason we post a mugshot, and that is because a law enforcement agency sends it to us in a press release. We are the press, so we release it. If we do not post a mugshot, it’s because we didn’t receive a press release. The only time we post an arrest we didn’t get the press release for is when it’s a high crime and is relevant to Monroe County in some real way.
I think what posting mugshots has done to most of us, over time, is allowed us to feel entitled to knowing everyone else’s problems. The truth is that most of these things are none of our business. Unless someone is murdery or rapey, I don’t need to know what’s going on in their lives. It doesn’t help me or you or them.
In the spirit of rigorous honesty, the one reason we don’t oppose them altogether is because it gets people to our website, and we hope that you’ll read the news about your community while you’re there.
If our incoming sheriff or any of our police chiefs here wake up one morning and decide to stop sending us press releases, no one here will lose any sleep. Until then, I urge everyone (including myself) to keep scrolling, send out the good vibes and try not to pass judgments on those arrested, those of us who post the mugshots or each other.