January 24, 2014

Justin Bieber’s mugshot is everywhere because Florida public records laws allow the release of such records. On Thursday, Poynter wrote about the Miami Beach Police Department’s social media strategy, which ensured that Bieber’s now-famous picture was quickly available to any news organization that wanted it. But how easy would it be to get Bieber’s mugshot had he had a similar evening in other U.S. states? (Memo to JB: Seattle has a lot to offer.)


To make this map, we used information from reports from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (including this downloadable 2008 PDF) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. But laws about public records don’t always reflect how they’re put into practice, so if you’re a journalist who has tried to access mugshots, please tell us how it went. We’ll update the map based on your comments.

Related: Mug-shot websites move beyond journalism to mainstream profiteers (Poynter) | Mugged by a Mug Shot Online (The New York Times) | For mugshots, privacy v. public interest (CJR)

Related training: Poynter’s NewsU also has a free, self-guided course on FOIA.

When this story posted on Friday, we asked you to tell us how the open records laws are working in your state. Thanks to those responses, we moved Kansas from the “no” column to the “maybe” column. You can see the comments below to find out why. And here’s what we’ve heard so far on Facebook.

Steve Fedoriska said “In Washington we also don’t get complete addresses, they only give us a block number and the street.”

Retha Colclasure Mattern told us “The open records laws are great in North Dakota and releasing report info and mug shots is routine for most of the larger departments. Some of the jails even post them online as soon as they’re taken. Smaller, rural departments were harder to work with because they weren’t as aware of huge law or how it applied to them. We would get a lot of ‘I can’t release that, only the sheriff can and he’s gone until tomorrow.'”

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