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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Police mugshots are public records

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Police mugshots are public records


Depending as we do on access to public information, we tend to bristle when anyone tries to restrict such access.

And so we oppose a bill, pending in the Oregon Legislature, which would make it more difficult for the public — and, potentially, the media — to get mugshots of criminal defendants from county jails.

House Bill 3467, which is sponsored by two Democratic representatives from Portland, Mitch Greenlick and Jennifer Williamson, has one strike against it from the start.

It wasn’t written by either of those lawmakers, but rather by Ryan Anfuso, a criminal defense attorney from Portland. We’ve nothing against defense lawyers, but in defending their clients they’re often more inclined to conceal information from the public rather than make it readily available.

The claimed purpose of HB 3467 isn’t so terrible. Anfuso said his goal is to thwart websites which use software to automatically search the Internet for mugshots, then post the photos online and, in some cases, charge people a fee if they want to have the mugshot removed.

That’s not an especially compelling use of public information.

But that’s also not the point.

Mugshots are public records, and the government should be striving to make such records more readily available, not less.

Which is where HB 3467 fails miserably.

The bill not only would prohibit police agencies from posting mugshots online, it would require that anyone who wants a copy of a mugshot to go to the agency, submit a written request, and then pay a fee (no amount is listed in the bill).

This is an awfully heavy-handed way to deal with those predatory websites that Anfuso is worried about.

And although Williamson said she is open to changing the proposed bill to make exceptions for the news media, that wouldn’t alleviate our concerns.

Mugshots are public records. That a handful of website operators take advantage of that in no way justifies punishing the vast majority of the public that merely wants access to information to which each of us is legally entitled. 

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