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Texas University To Develop Eyewitness ID Policy

July 01, 2011  | 

Sam Houston State University in Texas is developing a model policy and training for law enforcement officers on using eyewitness identification procedures.

The training is being developed by the university's Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT).

Under a state law that goes into effect June 17, Texas law enforcement agencies will be required to adopt a written policy on procedures for live and photo lineup identifications. The Texas Legislature has asked LEMIT to develop a model policy and training materials based on scientific research and on collaboration with small, medium and large police departments and associations.

The law is partly a response to several high profile criminal cases that have been overturned based on faulty eyewitness identification. The Dallas Morning News reports that 38 inmates have been exonerated in Texas based on mistaken identification, and only 12 percent of police departments in the state actually have a written policy on lineup identification.

This is not the first time that LEMIT has been tapped by the Texas Legislature to address major law enforcement policy issues in the state. In 2001, the Institute  helped develop the statewide policy and training on racial profiling, which is used by all Texas law enforcement today.

The new eyewitness identification policy would be based on scientific research and will address such areas as:

  • The selection of photographs and live lineup filler photographs or participants.
  • The instructions given to a witnesses before conducting the identification procedure.
  • The documentation and preservation of the results, including witness statements, regardless of the outcome of the procedure.
  • Procedures for administering eyewitness identification for a witness who is illiterate or with limited English proficiency.
  • Procedures for assigning an administrator who is unaware of the suspect in the case or developing safeguards to prevent opportunities to influence the witness.
  • Any other methods or practices commonly accepted as reducing erroneous identification and enhancing the objectivity and reliability of the process.

Once a draft policy is developed, LEMIT will confer with police organizations to review the document and to develop an evaluation criteria for its use.

Once a policy is approved, LEMIT also will be responsible for developing training for peace officers in the state on the new procedures. The training will likely be delivered through an online course.

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