Vargas: More PDs turn to shaming strategies to curb crime, and that’s a good thing


The use of shame and embarrassment has long been used by society to maintain social order. Law enforcement agencies have occasionally used shaming in their own strategies.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, the local CBS affiliate has teamed up with the Sheriff’s Office and Crime Stoppers to showcase Nueces County’s Top 10 most wanted fugitives. The segment is called the “Wheel of Shame.” The wanted persons and their photographs are featured during the show. As of November, 133 fugitives have been arrested.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, in an attempt to curtail human trafficking, publicly identifies the men convicted of soliciting sex for money. The names and booking photos of the convicted men are released on the district attorney’s website. The convicted suspects are shamed in front of the whole world. The hope is others may think twice before engaging in this type of behavior.

After widespread looting in September during public demonstrations in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, the police department posted surveillance and booking photos on Twitter of the looters who were identified and arrested. The local media identified the strategy as “name them and shame them.” Dozens of suspects were eventually rounded up using this strategy. Many of the tips came from the public.

In September, the East Liverpool Police Department in Ohio released graphic pictures on its Facebook page that went viral and stirred a lot of conversation. The photographs showed two adults passed out in the front seat of a car as a 4-year-old sat strapped in his car seat. The department felt compelled to show the ravages of drug abuse and its impact on children.

The department was both praised and criticized for publishing the photographs. One thing for certain: People now understood the impact of drugs on the lives of children.

Shame can be a powerful tool in maintaining safe and orderly communities. Could more public and shaming and embarrassment be a deterrent to disruptive behavior in the future?

One study seems to think so. That 2014 study by Jeffrey Stuewig and Andres Martinez found that inmates who had a strong degree of internalized shame were much less likely to end up in jail again.

Maybe we all should consider creative ways to use the collective power of shame in dealing with some of our most critical law enforcement issues.

With the holidays coming up, wouldn’t it be great to target porch thieves? Every day, police departments are getting high-quality surveillance videos of these crooks in action. I think most of us would have no problem having their faces and names put out there for the whole world to see.

If every PD released videos, photos and eventually booking photos, we all could collectively say “shame, shame on you” and feel very good about it in the process.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at