Update: June 2016
IONTB was granted access to booking photos through the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
Since the below article was originally written in June of 2014, a few things have changed but one thing has not. Sheriff Gualtieri’s decision to remove all booking photos from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office website to the general public and other interested entities remains.
At least one website appears to be data mining the photos directly from the Tampa Bay Times website. As you can read below, this action was predicted by myself back in June. Shortly after my conversation with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, a small TBT watermark appeared on the subject’s cheek in their photos.
Recently, I have noticed the website http://tampaarrests.net displaying local booking photos. This website contains the booking photos from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Of interest, is the fact that it appears that the photos are taken directly from the Tampa Bay Times website (http://tampabay.com/mugshots) and modified.
Below is a comparison photo from the same photograph of a recently booked subject into the Pinellas County Jail. In my opinion, it seems pretty obvious that the photo has been modified in an attempt to remove the watermark from the photo. The website in question is running a special (see below) until October 25th charging only $29.95 for photo removal. After that date the removal fee increases to $49.95.
IONTB has no further need to counter the reasons that the Sheriff gave for his decision. Only the negative effects of his decision are being felt with absolutely no advantages. It was a great attempt to stop the exploitation of those arrested but its execution was a total failure. People are profiting and it is being used for entertainment purposes at the hands of one of your own media partners.
Once again, I agree with the Sheriff that exploitation stemming from the usage of booking photos is awful. I hope he is not feeling absolved by justifying to himself they are not getting the photos directly from his Office. The effect on the exploited subject remains the same. His actions were not the answer to this problem!
IONTB will continue to receive booking photos from its media partners since I am not considered to be one by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
June 7, 2014 Since 2005, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s (PCSO) “Who’s In Jail” website included both arrest information and public access to the associated booking photo. On January 9, 2014, Sheriff Gualtieri ordered booking photos removed from the “Who’s In Jail” website.
Sheriff Gualtieri might possibly be the first and only Sheriff that has made this decision in the Country. His reasons all hinge on the activities of several mug shot websites, including mugshots.com, justmugshots.com, and arrests.org that have reposted all the photos on their own website. These companies then charge citizens exorbitantly high fees for their removal. IONTB agrees that charging to remove these photos is unconscionable, verging on blackmail and taking advantage of someone’s circumstances. The cost for removal of the photos has been reportedly as much as $1700 and this may only remove it from one site while ultimately re-appearing on others.
The State of Florida views booking photos as items of public record. PCSO is not denying requests to release a particular booking photo but making it very difficult to obtain one. I have succeeded in the past but other times requests have simply been ignored. I firmly believe that the utilization of these photos as part of the public record for news reporting purposes is protected under the First Amendment. PCSO’s website has an area where “Authorized Members” (media entities and law enforcement agencies) may access booking photographs.
One local “authorized media entity” has decided to utilize their access to the PCSO website to repost all booking photos on their website (http://tampabay.com/mugshots). This page is littered with ads from Derby Lane Poker Room, Xfininty X1, Frugal Authority, MiraBay and Newsinc.com. Is this webpage being used for journalistic or entertainment purposes and is ad revenue generated in this manner being condoned? If you are looking for a recent particular booking photo you can head to their hosting site at http://mugshots.s3.amazonaws.com/mugs/#######.jpg. Just replace the # symbols with the seven digit docket number that can be found on the PCSO website within the individuals particular arrest information page.
Unfortunately, for the second straight year, the Florida Legislature has failed to successfully pass any legislation to crack down on websites that publishes photos and charges fees to take them down. I have no expectation that the Sheriff’s policy will change anytime soon. The entities that have the resources to pursue the legitimacy of this policy change have been silenced by granting them unrestricted access. At this time, I am not aware that any of the scrupulous websites have figured out they can easily data mine the photos from the above listed site The fact remains that the photos are still available on-line and always remember that if something appears on the Internet, it is never truly gone.
The Sheriff now makes the decision about who shall be granted access and who shall not. Law enforcement and authorized media entities will continue to have access to all booking photos. This raises the question of what is a media entity. This definition has changed drastically in the past few years and will continue to evolve in today’s crazy world of social media. My views and observations regarding this question will be the focus of a future article at IONTB. It will look back on the past 14 months that I have been reporting for IONTB.
Once again, the egregious usage of booking photos for extortion of money should not be tolerated. We can all hope that future legislative efforts and solutions can be found to remedy this problem. In the meantime, there are many entities that can benefit from rapid availability of previous booking photos. Homeowners Associations, Neighborhood Watch Groups, Community Organizations, Private Security Firms and Law Offices are just a few that have lost an invaluable tool.
Better ways of accessing booking photos should have been put into place instead of the current overly restrictive system. The access could have been modified to allow specific computer systems (ip address) to access a small number of queries that would meet the needs of many entities. This is the same system successfully being currently utilized by the Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court website.
Conversations with PCSO regarding the process to obtain previous booking photos have not provided any clarity. In the meantime, feel free to visit the above authorized media entity for your entertainment purposes. Oh yes, don’t forget to click on the ads so they too may profit and take advantage of someone’s circumstances.