The Utah House of Representatives has passed House Bill 228, which severely restricts law enforcement from releasing booking photos (aka mugshots) to the public or media.
Rep. Keven Stratton, a Republican who bills himself as a conservative, proposed the bill. It is now moving to the Senate, where Sen. Mike Kennedy, also a Republican, is the sponsor. The Utah legislature does not publish vote totals, but Republicans have one of the largest majorities of any state in the country.
If passed, mugshots would become a “protected record” that must remain sealed until such time that a court of law convicts the suspect of a crime. The mugshot can only be unsealed if the suspect commits another crime and becomes a wanted fugitive or if a judge rules that the suspect poses a danger to the public.
The primary reason for banning these photos is to combat negative ethnic/racist “stereotypes” by not allowing the public to see who is being arrested and charged with crimes. Of course, this puts the public at greater risk, because they have less information about local crime. Historically, the groups who oppose booking photos have been on the left, such as the NAACP and ACLU.
Ironically, the Associated Press [AP] is part of an effort to oppose this action by the Utah legislature. The Utah Media Coalition is against restricting access to the photos, and the AP is part of that coalition.
In Mach of 2011, Tom Kent, deputy managing editor for standards and production at the AP stated that the wire service had a policy of censoring crime suspects for the same reason. Kent claimed that the race or ethnicity of an in-custody suspect “was not germane to the story unless it was a hate crime.” Of course, the AP gets to decide what constitutes a “hate crime” based on whatever narrative it is pushing at the time.