California Asked to Stop Covering Mug Shots with Lego Heads 

Ekaterina_Minaeva /
Ekaterina_Minaeva /

Social media users in Murrietta, California, will have one less thing to smile about when browsing local police posts. Law enforcement agencies have been “politely asked” to stop covering mug shot photos with Lego heads. 

Since early 2023, the Murrieta Police Department has modified suspect photos on social media by adding Lego heads and emojis to obscure their faces. This practice gained widespread attention after the department issued a statement explaining its policy, leading to viral coverage and a request from Lego to discontinue using their toy heads.  

The choice of Lego heads was a creative response to a California law implemented on January 1, which restricts law enforcement agencies from sharing mugshots on social media, particularly for nonviolent crimes. The law significantly alters how law enforcement agencies across the state share suspect photos and mugshots on social media platforms. The main goal of this legislation is to address privacy concerns and minimize potential harm from sharing mugshots online. By imposing certain restrictions, the law seeks to strike a balance between law enforcement’s transparency needs and the rights of individuals. 

The law introduces several important provisions. Firstly, it prohibits law enforcement agencies from sharing suspect photos for nonviolent crimes unless specific circumstances justify it. Secondly, booking photos shared on social media, even for individuals arrested for violent offenses, must be taken down within 14 days, except under certain circumstances. Exceptions may apply in cases where the individual is still a fugitive and poses an immediate threat to public safety. 

This law builds upon a previous version that had been in effect since 2022. That version prohibited posting mugshots for all non-violent offenders unless specific conditions were met. The updated legislation extends the time limit for removing mugshots and offers additional safeguards for defendants. Furthermore, it mandates that law enforcement departments remove mugshots already posted on social media if the defendant can demonstrate that their record was sealed, their conviction was expunged, or they were found not guilty. 

In January 2023, the Murrieta police department shared a new policy on Instagram regarding posting arrestee photos. This decision followed an internal discussion within the department. Responding to community requests for more “Weekly Roundup” posts, the department explained that they had started using Lego heads and emojis to adhere to the law while still engaging with Murrieta residents. 

Police departments frequently share photo collections on social media for events like “Mugshot Mondays” and “Wanted Wednesdays” to engage the community. However, experts emphasize the potential downsides of posting these images online. For individuals awaiting trial, mugshots can unfairly imply guilt. Furthermore, experts caution that these photos can pose significant employment obstacles for those seeking to move beyond their criminal history, affecting them in the long term. 

The decision to have a little fun with the mugshots drew criticism. Assemblymember Corey Jackson, the main sponsor of the California law, expressed concern about how Murrieta residents perceive the use of Lego heads. He questioned whether taxpayers would approve law enforcement officers spending time and resources putting Lego faces on suspects for social media posts when they could focus on other ways to protect the community.  

Although Murrieta’s use of Lego heads aligns with the law, Jackson noted that some agencies are attempting to bypass it by sharing images of suspects in police cars or handcuffed at crime scenes, arguing that these aren’t the same as booking photos. He mentioned that his team is seeking a legal opinion from the state Department of Justice to address this issue. 

Jackson highlighted the importance of law enforcement earning public trust and support. He questioned how their actions, such as attempting to find loopholes in the law, contribute to this goal of maintaining law and order. 

However, on March 19, Lego contacted the Murrietta Police Department and requested they refrain from “using their intellectual property in social media content.” Lt. Jeremy Durrant stated that they respect the request and will comply accordingly. 

“We are currently exploring other methods to continue publishing our content in a way that is engaging and interesting to our followers,” Durrant said. 

But for residents in Murrietta, banning Lego-headed mugshots is nearly as painful as stepping on one.