Wednesday, May 30, 2012

From Megan's Law to Mug Shot Magazines: Citizen involvement in the growing police state



Many Americans are in a constant fear of a "police state." This concept is not new. In the 1930s, the Nazis epitomized the police state. In fact, we still refer to overbearing police as "Gestapo." Powerful as the Gestapo was, they were not large enough to act alone; around 70% of the arrests made by the Gestapo were initiated by the tips or information of the general public. The Nazis employed propaganda to influence the people, and the people in turn, played a major role in sending millions to their deaths in concentration camps.

America is slowly becoming a similar police state. But just like the Nazi era, the police is not the only concern. This generation has done the same. We are a nation of nanny cams, background checks, and a growing number of public pillories known as "registries". Right now meth maker registries, domestic violence registries, and animal abuser either on the books are in the process of creation. Hell, we even have registries for your dog!

Bad Dog, Go Register!
But even that is not enough. Someone has decided that taking mug shots and putting them in a newspaper format and selling them is a great business opportunity. Somewhere along the way, we've turned the criminal justice system into the next spectator sport:

Someone should make a rag with pics of those who sell this crap

Imagine going to the Internet to search your name only to find a mug shot from years ago posted on multiple websites. There are publications and websites whose sole purpose is to feature police booking photos. Some make a profit selling advertising around the photos, while other websites are offering, for a price, to remove or hide these images permanently. *****  McMahon learned about the mug shot business the hard way.

In 2003, McMahon woke up one morning covered in blood, with stab wounds and evicted from his home. McMahon was fired from his job and slept in a gas station bathroom that night. McMahon knew his life was in need of a change. At the time, the then-bartender was dealing with the deaths of his best friend and sister within months of each other, along with a family history of drug abuse. McMahon started using cocaine at age 12 and lived in a drug-induced haze until he was 23. During those tumultuous years, McMahon was arrested several times, including two instances for driving under the influence of alcohol.

These days, McMahon is a happily married, churchgoing father who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. His wife, ***** McMahon, is a part-time student at the University of Georgia earning a master's in social work. When they're not working, life for the McMahons revolves around their 2-year-old daughter, ******. It is a much different existence than McMahon once had.

Congratulations are in order. This man turned his life around, rehabilitated, cleaned up his act, etc. He's a happily married man with a wife and kid, works hard, and even goes to church. Who would want to mess that up? Enter the Mug Shot Magazine Business:

As part of his recovery, McMahon went to the Internet to check his online image after he read that employers use Google to search the names of potential employees. Having served the time for his crimes, McMahon was shocked to find his mug shot still posted on a website along with others. He contacted the site to have the image removed. He paid a another site to have the mug shot removed only to see his photo show up in four other places. "It's like killing one flea and then saying, 'OK the flea problem is done,'" McMahon said. His frustration built when he contacted the website Reputation.com, which said for $7,500 it could not get rid of his image, but could "bury" it in Internet purgatory.

McMahon is not alone in finding his murky past displayed for the public.

So you not only have a business that posts your mug shot, no matter how old it is, but for a high price, you can pay to have it removed. But then it shows up elsewhere, because now that you have paid one site, other sites know you are willing to pay. It is like the South Park "Underpants Gnome" equation, only instead of collect underpants, someone collected mug shots, and they found that missing step to turn mug shots into profit.

I'm pretty sure a phase 2 involves something illegal.
Yes, I went there. 

Caught Up is a Tennessee-based weekly that dubs itself a "crime-fighting publication." It features police booking photos. Found primarily in smaller communities throughout Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, and Kentucky, the publication showcases people's names and alleged crimes listed below their mug shots. Caught Up and other similar papers collect mug shots, which are public record, from sheriffs and local police departments, who hand over the information with the names listed in alphabetical order, detailing the criminal charges. These photos are also featured and archived on the publication's website caughtuplive.com...

"Sometimes I say I'm the most popular woman of the small counties because police departments are so grateful," said Lori Broderick, the media liaison for Caught Up. Broderick is involved in the publication of every paper, which puts out more than 25,000 copies weekly. Broderick, who is also a paralegal, joined the Caught Up team in December 2010. She feels the mission of the paper is to give people the ability to keep an eye on their communities.

Well in the interest of fairness, I will post a link to Lori Broderick's Facebook page here in case any one is interested in suing her. So if they are putting out 25k+ copies per week at a dollar a pop, and assuming they are making at least a 50 cent profit ($12,500 weekly), then they are racking up $650,000 per year. That is a lot of dollar rags. 

The flip side is how the publication affects the people showcased. Broderick recalled a man who was a sex offender and had finished serving his sentence. The man was trying to rejoin the community but felt he couldn't with his mug shot in the paper and online. Broderick said she and her team discussed the issue, but ultimately felt their need to inform was more important than helping the man overcome his past.

"When you're talking about the safety of the community and the safety of children and seeing as how these are already public records, we just made the determination that it was in the best interest of the public to have this information available," Broderick said. "The lack of knowledge was not a chance that we were ready to take."

Here we get to the meat of the issue. The paper really should have said "their need to publicly humiliate in order to sell papers was more important than helping the man overcome his past. In other words, increasing the likelihood of recidivism is LESS important than selling papers. 

Mug shots: Informative vs. slander?

Caught Up consists mostly of mug shots with a few related written pieces and various games that it calls "informative fun." There also is some local advertising. Caught Up Vice President Geoffrey Bar-Lev said in today's economy the profit margin for this business is relatively low. However, the demand for the publication in smaller communities has remained the same. The business makes money even if the lives of the people who make up its content have changed, which leaves someone like McMahon out of luck.

Again, I broke down the profit margin. What is disturbing is Caught Up calls this "informative fun." So what can you do about it?

Several clients have asked Kavan Singh-Grover, an Atlanta-based criminal defense attorney, about removing their mug shots from the sites and about what legal action can be taken. "They are using a person's image for commercial gain without their permission," said Singh-Grover. "To me, its extortion, maybe not legally, but the common use of that term." Singh-Grover said legally, there is nothing that can be done. The only thing that could stop the publications and websites is legislation that forbids them. That legislation does not exist.

That legislation NEEDS to exist. That being said, I'd argue False Light and misusing my image. And yes, these papers have been sued in the past, HERE and also HERE

Caught Up's Broderick said she understands the concerns and said other publications might have a lower standard, but their purpose is to encourage safety in communities, not promote public humiliation. "People think we are in the business to mock," Broderick said. "They believe that we have photos of a person who has been arrested to allow the community to thumb their nose at and that's not our purpose. If people find some of the mug shots amusing, that's more or less a side effect." McMahon isn't laughing.

Oh, really?





It is hard to claim that when all the mug shot papers' web pages resemble this. 

"But that's the main way they make profit, right," he said. "We can read a paper without looking at a picture and know that seven people were arrested for DUI -- we don't need the picture. It just -- to me -- seems like the way that they're making money is because the pictures are pathetic or sometimes funny."

RemoveSlander.com is a website that erases mug shots from the Web once a person has been legally cleared. The site said it uses "trade tools" to eliminate the mug shot. Spokesperson Philip Lee said he does not feel RemoveSlander.com should be "affiliated with the mug shot website."

RemoveSlander.com via ImageMax Mugshot Removal said it is the first reputation management firm to offer the service. For $399, RemoveSlander.com allows a customer to specify one website from which to have a mug shot deleted. For $699.00, the mug shot is removed from three sites. Remove.Slander.com has 14 business days to remove the mug shot from the website and Google or the customer gets their money back. If a customer has multiple arrests with more than one booking photo, that costs more.

In his suburban Atlanta home, McMahon seems at peace with his new life and everything that comes with it. However, he's eager to talk about his past if it means more people are aware of publications like Caught Up and sites like RemoveSlander.com.

"I'm human, I made a couple of mistakes -- it's not a secret I made more than one," McMahon said. "Everyone has a past. It's just unfortunate that mine is exploited for profit."

Again, this is all about the money. 

With 65 million Americans with criminal records, including 750,000 or so on the sex offender registry, the business opportunities are endless, at the expense of the people.

I have my own story to tell. During the lowest point in my life, the week my mother died, they released my mug shot in a Mug Shot rag, leading to harassment as I was grieving over my mother's death. A neighbor told my now ex-fiancee Brandi's mother that I was a "bad man" who "hurts people." The same could be said for that person as well as the people who run the Mug Shot Magazines. 

My original premise is this phenomenon is merely an extension of the Gestapo generation. Megan's Law, the flint that ignited this fire, has expanded over the years to other crimes. The justification has been to "inform the public." However, we have seen that argument fall apart when you see how these papers are viewed by the general public. It is the return to the scarlet letter and public pillories. These methods have been proven ineffective, so there is no other reason to have them than for entertainment value. Roman society crumbled while its citizens were distracted by "bread and circuses." American society is falling into an equally dangerous trap.

It is past time for legislation putting an end to these practices once and for all.

2 comments:

  1. Lori Broderick-the representative for Catch Up at the time of your posting, is originally from the Milwaukee, WI. While married to a man named Jim Peek, she became pregnant by another man, Tom Broderick-also married with children from a former marriage. They divorced their former spouses and have been happily married for many years. She is a good mother. Throughout the years she has been known to repeatedly slap or throw objects at others-not in self defense but in anger. Any one of these individuals could have charged her with assault. After becoming a paralegal she used her knowledge of the law to intimidate others, calling the police on one individual for a purely invented cause. The police stormed that person's home only to find he himself was not there although his young children were. The man had no past criminal record, had never been arrested or even accused of anything-he simply had a different opinion than she did. The young children of that family were terrified by the policemen's pounding and shouting. The officers apologized profusely and left, but the damage had been done. Her tactics proved effective. Because Ms. Broderick is a state of TN employee, the man and his family remain reluctant to step forward. Hopefully those reading this post will realize that Lori Broderick herself may have emotional scars that influence her behavior and give her the consideration she obviously denies others.

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