Jerry Davich: No glamour shots among police mug shots
Jerry Davich email@example.com February 5, 2013 5:43PM
Glen Campbell mug shot. For FEATURES 2003 year-end story. Please do not use elsewhere before 2004. Thanx. Avis
Updated: March 7, 2013 6:41AM
Mug shot photos.
There is something about these “snapshots of shame” that I find both intriguing and disturbing, yet also amusing and entertaining.
The mug shots I’m talking about are the ones taken by police of people who are recently arrested for whatever reason. Murder, rape, battery, driving drunk, child abuse, vandalism, the list of crimes goes on and on.
For that brief moment after a suspect is arrested, during the booking process, a digital mug shot photo is taken and, typically, it’s the only image for society to see. More importantly, it’s the only image we have to cast judgment.
We can literally look into the eyes of a killer, cheater, liar, thief, molester or possibly a wrongly accused person. On some occasions, the photo is taken within hours after a suspect commits the crime, and you can sometimes tell by their eyes, stance, posture or attitude.
Take, for instance, two mug shots in Tuesday’s Post-Tribune (both on page three) of alleged killers Kevin Isom and Dustin McCowan. For many of us, they are the only images that we know of for these men facing their fates before juries.
Other mug shots of alleged criminals or people who simply screwed up don’t convey such weightiness. Take, for instance, many celebrity mug shots, such as Nick Nolte’s infamous photo from 2002 after the then 61-year-old actor was arrested for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs near his Malibu home.
I literally laugh out loud every time I see it, with his crazed look, electrified hair and colorful shirt. As celebs go, it’s one of my favorite mug shots ever, along with James Brown’s from 2004 and Glen Campbell’s from 2003.
Mug shots are not for our amusement or entertainment, of course, but for official police business. Not only to use in photo line-ups for victims to look at, but also for proper record keeping, ongoing investigations and many other uses.
Traditionally, most mug shots are two-parts, with a front view and side-profile view for easier identification. In the old days, suspects posed while holding a small placard with their name, date of birth and other relevant information.
“Mug” is a slang term for face that dates back to the 18th century, and its history has conflicting theories of originality.
Some historians say the mug shot was invented by Allan Pinkerton, a U.S. detective in the late 19th century. Others credit Alphonse Bertillon, a French clerk working in the Paris police department in the late 1870s.
Let’s pull over that clown
I contacted a few Northwest Indiana police departments about mug shots and I learned that county police departments typically take such photos these days, inside the county jail.
“Mug shots are actually pretty rigid as far as what we try to achieve,” said Porter County Sheriff David Lain. “We attempt to keep them uniform … to ensure that no one picture would stand out in a lineup and potentially draw a victim’s attention to one photo. That could get the evidence thrown out of a case.”
Such uniformity also includes similar lighting among departments and even the specific shade of gray paint used as a backdrop.
“We also take detailed photos of tattoos to help identify the individual and determine any gang affiliation,” Lain noted. “Some suspects have been identified by victims through tats.”
I asked other police officers a few questions about mug shots and the process involved, including if suspects are asked to smile or not smile, fix their hair or wash their face. Generally speaking, the collective answer is no.
“There was no set policy to make them smile or not,” said Portage Police Chief Troy Williams. “Typically, people wouldn’t smile, but some have.”
For the sake of uniformity, a “relaxed face” is advised. No combs or brushes are ever provided, or anything else that could diminish the “reality of their appearance.”
“I don’t think most people were too concerned about their hair,” said Williams, noting that a “re-do” is only done if the suspect closed their eyes, turned their head or made a ridiculous face.
“We’ve had people refuse the photo and they were advised they could not bond out before taking one,” Williams said. “They eventually took it ... even though typically it’s not someone’s finest hour.”
Lain noted that “jail time” doesn’t start until a suspect’s booking ends, so the potential “out time” also gets pushed back.
“It’s to their advantage to get booked in,” Lain noted.
Porter Police Chief Jamie Spanier recalled his funniest mug-shot experience while operating a radar gun on Indiana 49 in Chesterton. He clocked a vehicle speeding at more than 90 mph and told his partner he would pull over this “clown.”
It turned out the driver was dressed as a clown, including face paint, costume and red rubber nose. He was running late to entertain kids at a birthday party.
However, he was wanted by police for a previous warrant so Spanier arrested him on the spot. His mug shot photo was taken in full clown suit.
“I ended up getting in trouble for not having him wipe off the make-up, but the picture looked pretty funny,” Spanier recalled.
I’ll bet. But even that clownish mug shot couldn’t be funnier than Nolte’s, could it?
Listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show each Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.