KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock of the U.S. legal system. It also is becoming the bedrock of our policy in using police mugshots in news coverage.
With a few exceptions, 41 Action News is committed to reducing — and, in some cases, eliminating — the practice of using police-provided booking photos for criminal subjects.
These images are often prejudicial, of little journalistic value and can have long-lasting impacts for the individual pictured, especially when used in absence of a guilty verdict.
An arrest is not a criminal conviction and should not be grounds for connecting a person’s image to an alleged act, a decision that can follow that person long after any debt owed society has been paid, particularly in the digital age.
The use of mugshots often has a disproportionate impact on the impoverished, specifically those who can’t afford legal representation, and communities of color, often serving to perpetuate racial stereotypes.
That does not mean there are not times when a person’s mugshot is newsworthy and essential to our journalist’s mission. We will continue to use mugshots when police are engaged in an active manhunt or searching for additional potential victims — circumstances where the public must see the image to avoid potential danger or speak up as a victim. Mugshots also may be used in certain circumstances when a crime is sufficiently newsworthy or the person is a well-known public figure.
After a person has been convicted of a crime, a mugshot may be used in the context of reporting on the resolution of a pending case. Generally, our station’s policy has undergone a 180-degree transformation from using mugshots when available to not using mugshots without a clear and compelling reason.
Finally, our mugshot policy now gives the public an opportunity to file an appeal to remove an existing mugshot.
For jurisdictions that utilize the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline, anonymous tips can be made by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.
Annual homicide details and data for the Kansas City area are available through the 41 Action News Homicide Tracker, which was launched in 2015.