The Berkeley City Council was being asked this evening to adopt a policy that would keep the police department from using social media to publish booking photos of those arrested, with a few public safety exceptions, and to restrict public access to the names of arrestees as well.

As reported before the meeting by Emilie Raguso in Berkeleyside,

Two Berkeley City Council members and the mayor are asking the city to limit the amount and type of arrest information released to the public after the Berkeley Police Department faced criticism for using Twitter to share arrest updates, including booking photos, in August.

Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said he was surprised at the public response in August, as it was the fifth time the city has released protest arrest information and photos on Twitter. (The other four instances took place during protests in September 2017.)

Councilwomen Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison put forward an agenda item — set for the Sept. 13 Berkeley City Council meeting — asking police not to release booking photos on social media, other than in circumstances of “immediate threat.” In the most recent version of the proposal, Mayor Jesse Arreguín has signed on in support.

The trio has also asked, more broadly, that the city, “resist PRA [Public Records Act] requests for arrest photos and identifying information on individuals that have been arrested when doing so poses a risk to their safety as a result of threats against them and when doing so provide no public safety value

First Amendment experts expressed concerns about the proposal this week, and said it does not seem to factor the overall public interest into the equation — while putting the government in the position of determining “public safety value” without any particular criteria.

“The loose, subjective language of this proposal, authorizing anonymous arrests for the arrestees’ own good based on ‘threats’ to their safety when disclosure would have ‘no public safety value’ raises the immediate questions of Who Decides, and on the basis of what evidence?” said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a nonprofit focused on government accountability.

      There are two very different issues here: photos and names. Booking photos can be withheld as exempt from the Public Records Act at the discretion of the law enforcement agency possessing them, according to an Attorney General’s opinion, and many—maybe most—departments simply don’t release them routinely.
      Names of those arrested are another matter. The civil libertarian rationale for making them public is to prevent a situation where people can be picked up and locked up with no one the wiser—an unmistakable hallmark of a police state.
      The notion of routinely protecting the arrested from unspecified “threats” if publicly identified seems solicitous for Antifa anarchists, who often if not always wear masks when wading into street scrimmage with right-wing demonstrators .
      But in ironic contrast, for example, a bill by Berkeley’s own Senator Nancy Skinner now awaiting the Governor’s signature—or veto—would require public disclosure of confirmed investigations and discipline of police officers charged with lawless violence or sexual assault.  The bill provides that their names could be redacted from released records only “where there is a specific, articulable, and particularized reason to believe that disclosure of the record would pose a significant danger to the physical safety of the peace officer, custodial officer, or another person.”
Photo credit: Leah Millis, The Chronicle