There is no excuse for those terrible mug shots

There is no excuse for those terrible mug shots

(Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections, puts together the Living Here section and contributes a regular column.)

Last week the front pages of several local papers - including the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times (serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood) - carried the story of the couple accused of following UPS trucks around and, as soon as the brown vehicles drove away, grabbing the packages that were left and vamoosing.

According to our accounts (as well as stories on the local TV news), two Hillsboro people in their mid-20s were arrested following investigations by the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Hillsboro Police Department. These two characters, a 26-year-old guy and a woman, 25, were charged with 'multiple counts of theft' and booked into the county jail.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

What I really wanted to discuss is the mug shots of people like this.

They're horrible - and, thanks to a perfect storm of uncaring photography on the part of law enforcement agencies (it's not their job to make suspects look good, after all) and a 'that's-right-we-bad' attitude on the part of the accused, the images that end up in the newspaper practically scream guilt.

To claim our own share of the blame for this, I should admit that our news products are, after all, printed on a quality of stock that ranks somewhere between toilet tissue and low-grade wrapping paper, a light gray material probably best suited for lining bird cages and starting fires.

But, come on, you accused law-breakers, you really need to help yourself out a little bit. When you glare into that police camera with that 'I wish I could choke you until your eyes pop out' look on your face, it doesn't help you one bit.

One of the mug shots that went with the UPS package thieves story (the young woman) shows her actually slouching, for pete's sake. All you can see is her head, and still you know she's slouching.

Her head is bent to one side, she's looking away, and she is pouting.

Now, when our readers can ascertain that you have really bad body language, just from looking at a mug shot, you're doing a really bad job of presenting yourself to the world.

In this case, the guy, at least, is holding his head up. He seems to have a permanent smirk on his face, but at least he is allowing his face to be properly framed in the picture.

And I can't overstate the importance of this: That mug shot is going to follow you around for a long time - especially when you manage to get yourself on the front page of the local newspaper or on the evening news.

Look, we all have a similar problem with this kind of thing. Even those of us who don't go around stealing packages off of people's front porches fall victim to hurried, disinterested photography.

The most common one, of course, is our driver's license pictures. They just stand you up against a wall and let 'er rip, sometimes without much of a warning - and certainly without any last-minute beauty tips (like suggesting you comb your hair, or offering on-the-spot makeup help).

Then, of course, you have to live with that goofy picture on your license for the next eight years.

The same thing happens with student IDs, some membership cards and especially passport photos. This is another long-lasting one. You'll be showing your passport to airline people and assorted serious-minded officials all around the globe for the next 10 years. My last passport photo was taken at Walgreen's in Raleigh Hills, by what appeared to be a teenager.

So, whether you are being booked at the Washington County Jail, on the verge of getting your driver's license or about to have your passport photo shot, listen up. Here are some tips that might serve you down the road a ways.

* Stand up straight and try to look like you're not on drugs. If you don't make some effort along these lines, a certain percentage of people are going to assume you are on drugs. And if you are on drugs, you have no one but yourself to blame.

* Smile, a little bit at least. You don't need to break into a full Joker grin, but a little human friendliness could help.

* Try not to let the fact that you don't like the person taking the picture seep into your gaze. The camera knows these things, and it will rat on you.

* Take one last check of your hair and face to make sure they are not, you know, a mess. Booking shots may not present much opportunity for this, but you might want to use the police car ride to the jail for a last-minute fix-up, rather than wasting your time yelling at the officers, struggling with your handcuffs or trying to kick out a window.

* If you have any doubts about the advisability of any of these, just remember one thing: Gary Busey's mug shot. Nobody wants to see that again.