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California Police Department To Place Lego Heads Over Suspects' Faces After State Mug Shot Prohibition

Starting this year, California lawmakers have largely prohibited police departments from posting mug shots of nonviolent suspects or of acquitted defendants on social media accounts. Undeterred, the Murrieta Police Department announced plans this week to continue sharing photos of suspects on its social media accounts — with what appear to be Lego heads substituted for the suspects’ faces. As an example, the department shared on social media a photo of five suspects in a lineup, with the yellow cylinders obscuring their identities, the Los Angeles Times reports. “The Murrieta Police Department prides itself in its transparency with the community, but also honors everyone’s rights & protections as afforded by law; even suspects,” according to the post. “In order to share what is happening in Murrieta, we chose to cover the faces of suspects to protect their identity while still aligning with the new law.”

The California legislature passed and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1475 in 2021 to prohibit local law enforcement from publishing a mug shot on social media platforms if the individual is accused of a nonviolent crime, unless it would aid in the capture of the suspect; a judge orders the release of the photo; or there is an existing threat to others. Before the prohibition took effect, the state expanded it last year by enacting AB 994, which requires mug shots for a suspect — any suspect — to be removed from social media within 14 days unless special circumstances exist. At least some criminal-justice experts aren’t amused by Murrieta’s tactic. Peter Hanink, a professor of sociology and criminology at Cal Poly Pomona, said that to hide the people’s faces in this way, Hanink said, instead of simply blurring out their heads or using black boxes, appears to be a way to dehumanize those who have been arrested.


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