The images are grainy. The captions are sparse. And the glum-looking people in each snapshot are invariably cast in the same unflattering light and straight-ahead pose.
But ever since the Frederick Police Department began posting mug shots of suspected prostitutes and their customers on its Web site late last month, this modern-day "perp walk" has become one of the hottest draws in the city.
Hits on the city's Web site have gone up about 50 percent since the first prostitution-related arrest was posted Aug. 26.
But the policy also has drawn hits of another kind.
Dino E. Flores Jr., a lawyer speaking for the Frederick County Criminal Defense Bar, said that besides piling some unnecessary humiliation on the suspects, the Web site could interfere with the rights of those arrested.
Even the county's top law-enforcement officer, State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, has expressed misgivings.
"Our overwhelming concern is a person's ability to get a fair trial in Frederick County. Their crimes have not even been reviewed by the prosecuting authority," Flores said. "I think the main reason to do this is get a little publicity for the city. It's about somebody looking good."
That somebody is Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty, he said.
Dougherty, a Democrat who promised the Web postings in her State of the City address this year, has praised the move as empowering neighborhoods to fight back against a crime that gets scant attention from the courts but has a huge effect on quality of life in the city.
She also said there is not much difference from newspapers' publishing of roundups of recent arrests.
"I think it's a good neighborhood tool," Dougherty said in an interview. "It came because residents complained about it."
Dougherty also denied that the intent was to humiliate anyone.
"That's not it at all," she said. "If that's a byproduct, it's a byproduct."
Despite growth in Frederick during the past 10 years, Market Square in downtown Frederick is hardly Times Square.
Though exact numbers were not immediately available, the city averages 35 to 40 prostitution arrests a year, mostly in a three- to four-block area along North Market Street near Fourth Street, police said. Other arrests are made along South Market Street at the intersection of All Saints.
About 65 percent of those arrested are men; about 35 percent are women, police said.
Police and city attorneys worked closely to ensure the Web policy would be legal, city officials said. Under the policy, police generally post a suspect's photo, date of birth, date of arrest and criminal charge on the city's Web site within 72 hours of arrest, police said.
The photo and information stay up no fewer than 15 days and no more than 30 days, police said. Yesterday, there were no photos on the Web site.
Katie Richardson, who is in charge of the city's Web site, said the first picture of a suspect was posted Aug. 26. Before that, the city's site received about 500 hits a day.
After the posting, the number of hits grew to about 755. It reached as high as 1,546 after news accounts of the postings.
People have complained to the American Civil Liberties Union but there is little the group can do, said Stacey Mink, spokeswoman for the ACLU's Maryland affiliate.
"The answer is, it's legal. That's all we can say," she said.
Lawyers said they think the issue was settled by Paul v. Davis, a 1975 Supreme Court case that upheld the right of Louisville, Ky., police to circulate handbills of "active shoplifters" to local merchants.
Rolle, in a telephone interview Friday, said he had some concern that the practice could complicate efforts to impanel juries. But he said he was more troubled that the pictures and names are going up before a court passes judgment on the allegations.
"I would hate to think -- and I'm no liberal -- that someone would be arrested for this offense, they could be acquitted and their name would be ruined," Rolle said.
"Are they going to put that on the Web site, that Bob Smith was arrested here on such and such a date for solicitation of prostitution, and he's been acquitted?
"I kind of doubt that."
Rolle also said he thinks there could be no intent other than to embarrass people, not that he has a problem with that.
"So if the idea is to embarrass people so others don't follow suit, I'm all for it," Rolle said, who said he does not know how the postings help people in the community. "Somebody would have to explain to me how this empowers the neighborhood, to put these on the Web site," he said.
Police Chief Kim C. Dine said it gives people the most basic and important information.
"They, of course, want to know who is doing what," Dine said. The new policy also is in line with the department's recent push to crack down on noise violations and its endorsement of installing red light cameras on busy thoroughfares.
These are quality-of-life issues, Dine said. Too often, Dine said, tolerance of minor offenses can cause a neighborhood to slide toward more serious problems.
Putting the information on the Internet lets the community know that neither police nor residents will stand for it, Dine said.
"It's not like we have a big prostitution problem," Dine said. "We've been very aggressive."
Lt. Thomas V. Chase, head of criminal investigations, said he thinks the practice can act as a powerful deterrent to others.
He said he knows because he has arrested many people for soliciting prostitution and heard their concerns.
"Here are the three things you hear: 'Can't you let me go?' And of course, the answer is no," Chase said.
"The second thing they say is, 'My wife is going to kill me.' And the third thing they say is, 'Is this going to be in the newspaper?' "