Mugshot Mania

Newspaper puts local outlaws on display

It took Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about two years at The Washington Post to uncover evidence that helped indict and convict Nixon administration officials in the Watergate scandal. Now there’s another newspaper trying to bring scoundrels to justice with every issue.

Local Mugshots is a brazen photo compendium of people arrested in Nevada for drugs, gang activity, DUIs and sexual crimes—even killing a goat. It’s not a traditional newspaper—no coupons or crosswords to be found—and the publication won’t break the next big case in American politics. But it’s published in 25 cities across the country and boasts 208 fugitive apprehensions nationwide since 2007 from information it provides. “And we don’t even hear about all of them,” says Max Cannon, founder of Florida-based SafeCITY Publishing, which puts out the paper.

The publication gets its photos and information from federal and local law enforcement agencies. In Nevada, it obtains public records online from the district attorney and state and court records. The mugshots are what you’d expect: bleary-eyed men and women looking stupefied—some are saddled with bruises or blood.

Metropolitan Police officials say they haven’t seen the publication but recognize the benefit of featuring sexual offenders and even revealing their addresses. “That’s a great thing,” Metro spokesman Jay Rivera says. “We’re able to let community know where they are. We have that on our own Web page.”

When presented with the evidence, Rivera didn’t agree with certain sections of the 12-page newspaper, however, such as the one listing “Ugly $5 Hoes.” The pages feature women arrested for prostitution. “We’re not in the game of calling names,” Rivera says.

Nevada is the first West Coast version of the publication and has been around for about eight months. About 15,000 to 20,000 copies are distributed to 80 locations throughout Clark and Washoe counties every two to three weeks. In Las Vegas, it is available at most 7-Eleven, AM/PM and Fills locations, and the distributor is working on increasing its presence to about 20 more locations.

“Who says journalism is dead?” jokes Stephen Bates, a UNLV journalism professor who teaches media law. He’s quick to distinguish it from traditional journalism, though, calling it “an entertainment vehicle.” He wasn’t familiar with the publication but says he’ll definitely be bringing it up in class.

Cannon, who started the publication about nine years ago in Tennessee, can’t say for certain why it’s been so popular, but conjectures that it’s the possibility of recognizing someone. “There’s a good likelihood that at some point in time, they’re going to see someone they went to school with or work with, as opposed to watching something on America’s Most Wanted,” he says.

Bates sees it as doing more harm than good, however. “It seems a little irresponsible to feature people who have been arrested and not been charged with any crime. It’s tarnishing people’s reputations.”

Some stores choose not to carry the newspaper because of threats from customers who see their faces in the newspaper, says Chris Parsons, owner of Local Mugshots Distributors. “Well if you hadn’t done the crime, your picture wouldn’t be in there,” Parsons says.

The newspaper costs $1, and Parsons says his company makes 35 percent, the stores receive 25 percent and the publisher earns the other 40 percent of the revenue.

Cannon stands by the value of the paper, and has a personal testimony to back it up. A couple of years ago, he says, his son-in-law’s sister picked up a copy of Local Mugshots in Tennessee and saw her son’s baseball coach on the sexual offender page. “The city didn’t have a policy to do a background check,” Cannon says. “But she got upset and contacted the city, and the guy got dismissed.”