The Smoking Gun comes to Tampa Bay with St. Pete Times' new Mug Shots site
So it's really no surprise that some of my compatriots here at the St. Petersburg Times would find a way to bring Tampa Bay area mug shots -- which, since they are in Florida, are some of the most priceless, let's admit -- to a searchable Web site.
Mug Shots debuted yesterday and drew 100,000 page views in the first three hours. It harnesses the technology we also use to aggregate real estate data from county sources to pull together mug shots and arrest data for people who have gotten pinched in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Right now, you can only search by name and ZIP code and a few other qualifiers -- which makes sifting by type of crime, for instance, a tougher task. The site's Frequently Asked Questions page has answers to many of the most obvious questions, including how long a picture stays on the site (60 days) and why some people arrested may not appear (if they don't have a usable mug shot photo).
I wouldn't be a very good media critic if I didn't point out the site's most controversial aspect -- that it highlights people who have only been arrested for a crime in the most unflattering light possible.
The counter argument is that these are publicly available records used by sites such as The Smoking Gun and in our own news stories innumerable times. Our own crack feature reporter Ben Montgomery did an entertaining story about why some people smile during their mug shots last year.
But some defense lawyers already criticize journalists for treating police statements and reports as immutable fact; this site would seem to further that idea, regularly displaying charges alleged by police on a portal emblazoned with the St. Petersburg Times' brand.
And because so many people arrested are black and Hispanic, a spin through the mug shots will reveal a disappointing array of black and brown faces in their worst moments.
The site pulls out some statistics, displaying today that Hillsborough has about 300 more mugshots in our archive than Pinellas -- I always knew they were more dangerous -- and the bulk of those featured are males (three times more than women) ages 20 to 25. There are also 41 people age 70 or older, which is just scary.
Perhaps it's a measure of my jaded attitude these days, but I'm mostly wondering whether this should be a totally free site. Given the needs newspapers face for revenue, I wish we could have found a way to charge for some aspects of it -- maybe by providing photo prints for people who want to immortalize their Mug Shot experience.
Now that's a way to monetize news content.
Mug shots above of Nick Nolte, Debra Lafave.