Burlington Police Commission discusses limiting release of mug shots

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On Tuesday, the Burlington Police Commmission met to discuss the use of mugshots in press releases and websites, with some members of the commission pushing to make mugshots less prevalent in online searches.

Interim Chief Jon Murad said the Burlington Police Department doesn’t have a set policy when it comes to mugshots, and the decision on whether or not to use them typically falls to the chief.

They’re mostly used by the department’s social media channels when someone is wanted for a crime, or if someone goes missing.

Commissioner Randall Harp said he wants it to be more difficult for mugshots to become widely available online.

“The departments, in my opinion, should not be making it easy for biographical information of people who have been arrested, along with pictures to be easily gathered or archived in one place electronically for easy things like Google searches, so I think the department should be making that process as difficult as possible,” Harp said.

Interim Chief Murad argued that restricting access to mugshots would be impractical, because they’re required to be available upon media request.

“I am reluctant to use terminology like making it as difficult as possible for people to obtain information for which they’re lawfully entitled,” Murad said. “Much of what you’re discussing, Commissioner, flies in the face of improved transparency.”

Commissioner Harp believes that police department media releases on arrests should no longer be distributed as searchable PDF files in an effort to make them less likely to appear easily in searches.

The commission was originally scheduled to discuss its role in department oversight, as well as new guidelines on the release of body cam footage, but that was tabled to next month.

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