Controversy over Bristol police posting mug shots online - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Controversy over Bristol police posting mug shots online

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The small village of Bristol is battling growing drug-related crime. Since last year, thefts have doubled, drug crimes have skyrocketed and budget cuts have forced the police department to downsize, leaving little time left for paperwork.

"It was just not happening; we were getting hammered here," Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs said.

Gibbs says residents complained about lack of a police log in the local paper, so he reviewed his media policy and began releasing information on the department's Facebook page; something he said was quicker and easier.

"People want to know what's going on and they may know the person that's committed the crime," Gibbs said.

And if someone is taken into police custody, that means their mug shot also goes up online for virtually anyone with internet access to see.

"I think that if you do something that you get charged with or cited for, then I think you deserve to have a mug shot on Facebook," said Bonita Bedard, who works in Bristol.

But others consider it public shaming-- a scarlet letter.

"There's something sort of morbidly interesting about reading the police logs. And this seems to take it a step further," said Ben White, who was visiting Bristol.

"Is there any kind of innocence until proven guilty if they're automatically put on Facebook?" asked Emmeline Wilkes-Dupoise, a former Bristol resident.

Gibbs says the online chatter the posts receive has helped his busy department.

"A name may mean nothing, but if they see a face of a person arrested for a burglary and three days before the burglary we arrested them they were knocking on that person's door, they can call us and we can further an investigation," Gibbs said.

Legal expert Jerry O'Neill, a former federal prosecutor, says while seeing your mug online may make some people uncomfortable, they shouldn't expect any privacy.

"When it's a mug shot, it's public information," O'Neill said. "There's nothing wrong with it going up on the Facebook site. It's the new modern newspaper if you will."

And he says so far he hasn't seen any violations of privacy or the law by police departments using social media.

"I think most police departments are very careful about what they put out," O'Neill said. "They would rather put out a little less than too much, but they've been putting out press releases forever. So, this is a form of a press release."

Gibbs says if the charges against a person are later dropped, he does delete the post from the site. O'Neill says the use of social media by police departments is spreading. The Vermont State Police even post their press releases on Twitter.

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