A few more paragraphs about NYPD's "Catch unit" that didn't make the cut. Interesting issue though...
The homicide task force is just down the hall from what was known as the ‘catch unit’— a huge room with row upon row of file cabinets crammed with old perp pics. The catch unit was the home of the pre-computerized mug books. The damage of an arrest always goes far beyond the restoration vindication can provide. Higher profile defendants, whose charges appear on page one, often find the dismissals buried on B-26. Damage to a carefully built reputation is often permanent, and exposure to the acid of the criminal justice system is often permanently scarring. Most of my clients, however aren’t on page one, or any page for that matter. They’re the undifferentiated chum that power the system. And so it’s their freedom rather than their reputations at stake.
Criminal procedure law section 160.50, requires that if a criminal action is terminated in favor of the accused—that is if the charges are dropped, or the client is acquitted, all of the information—fingerprints and photographs especially, are supposed to be destroyed. The theory, of course is that innocent people don’t below in the perverse databases of criminal justice administration. But as any policy maker knows, unless there are sanctions for a violation of a rule or policy, it is likely to be ignored. Judges have ruled that an if a photograph is retained illegally, and placed in a photobook, any subsequent identification is still OK. It’s why careful families are so upset by otherwise insignificant encounters with the police. Stopped for reckless driving, even though the case is dismissed, the police may illegally retain a picture. Many years later, that old photo, the one that according to the law was supposed to have been destroyed, can come back in haunting ways. I’ve seen this in dozens of cases over the years—innocent kids wrongly identified from age-old photos that no longer look anything like them, charged in cases where that faulty identification that is the sole evidence. Their remedy—a civil suit that no contingency fee lawyer will touch.
The result of the judicial decisions refusing to penalize the police for unlawfully retaining old photos, is a whole parallel unofficial photo system—usually Polaroid pictures of suspects taken separately from the official mug shots, retained when they should be destroyed—and used, often wrongly, to identify people who should never be in the database at all. The “catch” unit, along with several places in the narcotics unit, was where many of those illegally retained pictures made their home.