I hate having to use mug shots

On the Charley Project’s Twitter account I tweet two cases a day, one male missing person, one female. These tweets are pre-scheduled and go up automatically, and for the past few years they’ve always been accompanied by a photo of the MP.

If there’s a choice of photos, and the photos are all of basically equal quality, I choose the one that I think makes the MP look best. If the photos are of varying qualities, I pick the best quality photo: a clear image taken close up and in good lighting, making it easy to tell what the MP looked like.

Sometimes, too many times, the literal only photos I can find, or the only ones of decent quality, are obvious mug shots. They are obviously better than no photos or really poor quality photos when it comes to identifying someone, and I even once made a blog post defending my use of mug shots and even arguing that they were more useful than candid photos or portraits. But all the same I hate having to use them.

I mean, to me, a photo is a photo. But it seems like the general public, they see something about a missing person and they see a mug shot of that missing person and immediately their empathy switches off. They stop caring about the case and assume the MP must have been a bad person or something. When the general public is just going off a mug shot, they don’t even know why the MP got arrested or what really happened. When even if the MP was not a perfect person they don’t deserve to be kidnapped or murdered and their families don’t deserve the torment and grief.

I especially hate it when the MP whose mug shots I have to use is a person of color. The reason it bothers me is I know it’s a common complaint in the black community that whenever the mainstream news media talks about an ordinary black person, they will use unflattering photos, including mug shots if those are available, and that the mainstream news media does not do this when talking about white people. (For example, it was some time before the news media started using blonde, blue-eyed rapist Brock Turner‘s mug shots after his arrest and eventual conviction for rape. They initially used other photos of him.) I do not wish to be accused of racism.

I do know that at least some police departments have become aware of the issue of using mug shots in their missing persons press releases. At least, they’re aware they are being criticized for it.

I know this because recently I saw a police department post about a missing (white) person and the woman looked a bit rough in the pic, with dark circles under her eyes like she hadn’t slept in many days. I don’t know 100% if the photo was a mug shot but I think it was. In the text of their post about this missing woman, the police department said this was the most recent photo of her and the family had approved of its use. Like they knew they were going to be called out.

This all came up today in my head when I was updating a case where there are a decent number of photos but none are good quality and some have filters. Except for one photo. And it’s a mug shot. And she’s a black woman. It was also used in the investigating police department’s post on Facebook about the missing woman, and people in the comments were complaining about its use, for the reasons I mentioned above. But all the other photos I’ve ever seen of this person are all either heavily filtered or poor quality, and aren’t very good for identification.

Unless I find a decent candid photo or portrait, the mug shot will have to be the photo I select, if I ever tweet about this case.

5 thoughts on “I hate having to use mug shots

  1. Pamela Haymond May 14, 2022 / 5:46 pm

    Meaghan, I love reading your posts….you are so very thoughtful! . I have been reading Charley’s List for many years now and need to make a contribution to you soon! I admire you so much for doing this important work – I would love to do it myself… Was a newspaper reporter some years back and did missing persons stories. We have so much in common.

    • Meaghan May 14, 2022 / 5:47 pm

      Thank you for your kind compliments!

  2. Kb May 16, 2022 / 3:14 am

    Could you try using the app Remini to clean up the older photos so you can see the person a bit better? It does a pretty good job depending on how blurry/poor quality the photo is

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