Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mugshot Capturing - NIST Best Practices

Mugshots are one of law enforcement's most important tools in cataloguing convict information as well as obtaining convictions for crimes. Whether they be jail mugshots, funny mugshots or just the creation mugshot database, this photographic evidence, once obtained, may be shared by departments across the country to identify a repeat offender in the same or another jurisdiction. Another important feature of mugshots, an increasing focus in today fiscal landscape, is their ability to be used for photographic arrays and lineups for victim and witness identification. Not only do lineup arrays employing mugshots save time and resources, they present these tools without individuals even knowing that they are suspects

The problem with mugshots' usage as a lineup tool lies with the uniformity of mugshots taken from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Whereas similar looking suspects presented in an unbiased photographic manner leads to identifications that can influence judges and juries, carelessly taken mugshots, mugshots with different lighting, different colored-backgrounds, disparate poses or aspect ratios may lead to bias in identifying perpetrators of crime - oftentimes leading to prosecutors determining that this type of evidence would be impermissible or worse the successful suppression of this type of evidence in courts of law. Thus, to create photographic arrays that consist of similar photographs fall into the hands of individuals making subjective decisions.

The NIST has developed the Best Practice Recommendation for the Capture of Mugshots. These practices, developed over the course of several years, were introduced in 1997 to mandate uniformity and consistency in mugshot taking. To create and maintain uniformity, NIST suggests standardization of the following photograph specifications:

Types of Poses
Depth of Field
Aspect Ratio
Minimum Number of Pixels
Color Space
Pixel Aspect Ratio
Compression Algorithm
File Format

Recently, to combat the disparate nature of mugshot-taking, many states have begun to employ the NIST standards of mugshot capturing. For instance, States such as Michigan, Indiana, New York and Virginia have implemented similar procedures on mugshot capture consistency. After all, if mugshots are different from user to user or department to department, their use as identification tool is practically worthless.

It is incumbent on other states and municipalities to begin following these standards. Even if you believe that complying with standardized guidelines for mugshot capturing is unnecessary, your mugshots may need to be utilized by another locality for identification purposes. As a law enforcement agency, do you want to jeopardize the conviction process in this way?

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