Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eyewitness Procedures Changing at Dallas PD

We've already written here about the danger of unreliable and mistaken eyewitness identifications of criminal suspects. Fortunately it appears that the Dallas Police Dept. has also recognized the problem and is hoping to help fix the problem by participating in a national study of which eyewitness identification methods are the most reliable:

The $300,000 federally funded study will be led by the Washington-based Urban Institute beginning in January. Officials have also been in discussions with Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as other cities, about participating in the study.

"Dallas ought to be a laboratory – a poster child for reform," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who unsuccessfully tried to get the state Legislature to set up a working group to come up with a model policy for lineup procedures.

Earlier this year, in part as a result of the continuing stream of exonerations, Dallas police officials formalized their procedures on conducting photo lineups. Individual units previously had their own policies.

The new policy sets out stringent procedures for conducting lineups, including that the people presented in the lineup "display similar physical characteristics" to the suspect and that the administrator tell the victim or witness that the lineup may or may not contain the suspected guilty party.

The policy also states that only under "very limited circumstances" should a victim or witness be shown a second lineup and that it should only be done with approval from the detective's supervisor and after consultation with the district attorney's office.

"Everybody in law enforcement wants to use the best system," said Dallas police Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop, commander of the criminal investigations bureau. "Once it's been shown scientifically which is the best system, I think everybody will move to that system."

Amen to that. Police-like everyone-want the guilty to go to jail, and the innocent to go home. Unfortunately law enforcement can be slow to recognize problems with their procedures, which can lead to the reverse happening. It's good to hear that the Dallas PD want to get this right, and are willing to take the time and the trouble find out how to go about it.

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