California Police Department Replaces Suspects’ Faces With Lego Heads

A police department in southern California announced Monday it would start covering nonviolent suspects’ faces in compliance with a new state law.

“On January 1st, a new law went into effect that restricts the how and when law enforcement agencies in California share suspect photos & mugshots,” Murrieta Police Department (MPD) said in a statement on Instagram.

“The new law, Assembly Bill 994 & Penal Code 13665, now prohibits law enforcement from sharing suspect photos for nonviolent crimes, unless specified circumstances exist. Additionally, the new law requires agencies to remove suspect mugshots from social media after 14 days, unless special circumstances exist,” the statement added.

The statement included a photograph or illustration of a lineup of suspects with Lego heads rather than human faces.

The MPD said it “honors everyone’s rights & protections as afforded by law; even suspects” and had now chosen to “cover the faces of suspects to protect their identity while still aligning with the new law.”

The bill, an amendment of Section 13665 of California’s Penal Code, requires police officers “to remove a booking photo shared on the department’s social media page within 14 days unless specific circumstances exist” and “to use the name and pronouns given by the subject of that photo” when sharing the booking photo on their police departments’ or sheriff’s offices’ social media sites.

“Using the name and pronouns provided by an arrestee constitutes an important step toward affirming the true racial and gender identities,” the bill says, while admitting that “strange situations” might arise because “the bill mandates the use of any name provided by the arrestee” even if the names are false. The “strange situations” could ultimately and entirely deter officers from posting suspects’ mugshots even though sharing the mugshots may legitimately help potential victims help the prosecution process, the bill notes.

Democrat lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in support of the bill as it moved from the Assembly to the State Senate between Mar. and Sep. 2023, with only a few Democrats and all Republican lawmakers voting against it, according to the real-time legislative tracking site LegiScan. (RELATED: Dogged By Crime Concerns, Dems Walk Back Their Own Reforms Ahead Of 2024 Election)

Opinions were split over the state bill and the MPD’s announcement.

“I think it’s great that they can’t share suspects’ pictures, far too many pictures have been shown before the “criminal” has ever gone to trial. Innocent and proven guilty, and when you post a picture of someone who is actually innocent, it can destroy a life. That has happened far too many times,” replied a commenter.

“But it’s OK to display officers names, photos, videos, amd [sic] addresses,” replied another.

The bill did not appear to indicate that photographs and videos taken at a crime scene could not be displayed, as another commenter also observed.