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D.C. Council to consider opening arrestee mug shot files

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Local,DC,Crime,Alan Blinder,D.C. Council

The District's police department would be required to release the mug shots of arrestees under a plan a city councilwoman introduced Tuesday.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh's measure would allow the city to charge for the photos, but it would bar the Metropolitan Police Department from keeping the photos private.

"Usually, a small number of people are responsible for a large number of crimes, particularly robberies and assaults and things of that nature," Cheh told The Washington Examiner. "It occurred to me that seeing the picture of the person who had been arrested will allow people to make connections they might not otherwise have made."

And Cheh said she is willing to gamble that innocent people might have their likenesses published.

"I thought that on balance if someone is arrested, if we've gone over that threshold of probable cause, then the benefit outweighs the chance that someone might be arrested and then not have been involved in the crime," she said.

Other lawmakers were cool to the proposal, and Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander said later she had no interest in supporting the measure.

"I definitely don't see any use for a person's mug shot, especially when there's no conviction," Alexander said. "The only way I would ever even entertain anything like that would be to release the picture after convictions."

A police spokeswoman declined to discuss the legislation.

Although dozens of states allow the release of booking photos, the District has long refused, arguing in 2011 that disclosure would be an invasion of privacy.

The federal government has maintained a similar stance and has refused to release photos of its approximately 218,000 inmates, resulting in prolonged legal battles.

Two federal appeals courts have said since 2011 that the government didn't have to release the images, decisions that ran counter to a 1996 ruling by another court that held the photos must be disclosed.

The Supreme Court has declined to intervene.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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