A rogues gallery is a collection of images a law enforcement agency retains to use in identifications. When a crime occurs, representatives of the agency can ask witnesses to look at the images to see if they recognize anybody. Identifying someone in a photograph is not as powerful as an identification in a lineup, but it can be a good start for investigators. This concept appears to date to the mid-1800s and the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the United States.
Sources for images in a rogues gallery can vary. Many agencies use booking photos from their own records and may include images from other law enforcement agencies as well. Historically, these were kept in large books and sorted by type, allowing officers to quickly pull out a book of likely candidates on the basis of a description given by the suspect. Many agencies now digitize their records and can provide people with a digital photo lineup, with access to photographs uploaded by other agencies.
When someone reports a crime, police will take a description of the perpetrator and may ask the victim to review the rogues gallery to see if anyone looks familiar. This can allow police to determine if a repeat offender committed the crime and may also help people like sketch artists. Even if the victim cannot identify a specific person, the pictures may help the victim come up with a more accurate description so the police can circulate a good likeness in the hopes of identifying the criminal as early as possible.
In court, a victim identification based on a rogues gallery is not as strong as a lineup, and police will usually also ask people to attend a lineup once they apprehend the suspect. Defendants may challenge photo identifications on the grounds that the victim may have been manipulated by police officers or could be looking at old or inaccurate photographs.
Some police departments maintain a wall of their most notable cases, and this can include images from the rogues gallery, depicting criminals the department has successfully managed to convict. The department may also maintain an informal wall of frequent offenders so officers will be able to recognize them easily when they see them engaging in suspicious activity. For a department covering a large area, this can be useful for new officers or people changing their beats who might not be familiar with the usual suspects in their new area of operations.