Police Chiefs Lead Effort to Reduce Wrongful Convictions Through Better Investigative Practices

Last year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police convened a National Summit on Wrongful Convictions, and last week, it issued a report of recommendations that called on police departments nationwide to adopt best practices in their criminal investigations. The report is a joint effort by the IACP, the U.S. Justice Department, and the Innocence Project, and its 30 recommendations take aim at the following four goals: avoiding wrongful arrests in the first place; correcting wrongful arrests when they occur; maximizing the value of technology and science; and being open to new information when reexamining closed cases.

The recommendations include the following:

  1. Conducting double-blind lineups, where neither the witness nor the officer knows who’s the suspect.
  2. Presenting suspects to a witness sequentially rather than all at once (whether in a lineup or photo array).
  3. Recording all witness interviews involving major crimes, and videotaping whenever possible.
  4. Corroborating the testimony of informants carefully.

Such recommendations and reforms are important. Researchers have found that witness recollections are wrong about one-third of the time, despite their strong impact on juries, and eyewitness identifications have played a role in the majority of convictions overturned by DNA evidence, as reported here before.

And such reforms should enjoy wide support, according to one police chief. “What we are trying to say in this report is, it’s worth it for all of us, particularly law enforcement, to continue to evaluate, slow down, and get the right person,” says Walter McNeil, the police chief in Quincy, Florida and an immediate past president of the IACP. We can all say amen to that.

 

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