Legislation lets most police agencies decide whether to release mugshots

Apr 15, 2019

The new mugshot legislation that passed in the state budget this month has been sometimes described as a mugshot “ban.” That’s not entirely accurate -- most local law enforcement agencies will be able to choose whether they make mugshots public or not.


Albany authorities provided this mugshot of former Erie County Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger, when arrested on rape charges.
Credit Albany County District Attorney

Ron Holdraker is known for publishing mugshots in his newspaper, the Times of Wayne County. Anyone with a misdemeanor arrest or higher is featured in print and online.

Holdraker said mugshots are his most popular section, along with obituaries, and that this new legislation won’t stop him from featuring them.

“We’ve been doing this 30 years,” Holdraker said. “So I was pleased when the local sheriff’s departments said (they’re) not gonna follow it either.”

Because of the way the law is written, only the New York State Police are actually prohibited from releasing mugshots to the public in the absence of a reason that doing so would be in the public interest, such as a prison break.

Thus, Holdraker said, the law won’t affect his business. He wishes the law had specifically targeted “bad actors” — namely websites that publish mugshots and charge a fee to take them down. It’s a practice that Alphonso David, chief counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called tantamount to extortion.

“The objective here is to protect individuals, who are not convicted of a crime in many instances, from having their mugshots be publicly listed into perpetuity,” David said.

He added that other states have tried the approach of going after bad actor websites, with little success — the websites often continue to charge for removing mugshots, citing the First Amendment, or simply make money by hosting advertising on the websites instead.

David recognizes that some local law enforcement agencies in New York have declared they will continue to release mugshot photos. He said it may take time, but he hopes more agencies will come around.

Holdraker certainly hopes not. As long as he’s publisher, mugshots will remain in the Times of Wayne County. He said they can be an effective deterrent: “A lot of people, when they’re caught, the first thing they say in Wayne County is, “Oh no. Is my mug gonna be in that paper?”