Monday, October 27, 2008

Dallas police reexamining 'showup' policy

Grits has frequently discussed faulty eyewitness ID procedures used by police, and few such tactics are more problematic than use of the "showup," where police bring a single suspect in custody to see a witness or victim and simply ask, "is this the guy." As it turns out, reports the Dallas News, for the most part this tactic isn't necessary for good police work ("Dallas police view suspect showups," Oct. 25):

A Dallas police review of single-suspect "showup" identifications revealed that more than half may not have been necessary to make an arrest.

Police found 36 cases involving showups in a review completed this week of crimes from the last six months.

The examination began after an investigation earlier this month by The Dallas Morning News into eyewitness identification.

In 20 of the 36 cases, police already had enough information to make an arrest or there was already a warrant for a suspect in another crime, police said.

A photo lineup using six images could have been conducted later in those instances.

"A lot of times, it wasn't necessary," said Dallas police Lt. David Pughes, who is in charge of the review. "The patrol officers tried to make it an ironclad case."

That said, DPD's review likely isn't capturing all showups, said a nationally reknowned eyewitness ID expert, because usually they're typically performed by patrol officers and DPD only counted the ones done by detectives:

Gary Wells, an Iowa State University psychology professor and expert on eyewitness identification, commended Dallas police for conducting the review and other changes. But he said their assessment is incomplete because detectives typically aren't the ones conducting lineups. They might not remember that a patrol officer conducted a showup in a particular case.

"They are missing most of the showups," Dr. Wells said.

It's particularly troublesome if detectives "might not remember" that a patrol officer did a showup because it could taint future identification processes. After all, once police have shown you a guy handcuffed in the back of a police car, the odds that the witness would pick the same guy out of a photo array later are pretty high, whether or not it's actually the culprit.

In an op-ed, state Sen. Rodney Ellis proposed eliminating the tactic altogether ("Sen. Ellis to propose ban on police showups in Texas," Oct. 15):

"I think because of the outrageous number of wrongful convictions in Texas, it's time to begin the dialog [to ban showups]," Mr. Ellis said. "Whether or not I can get legislators to a point at which they would mandate it would not be used is a separate issue."

Dallas PD is in the process of creating a stricter policy, whether or not the Legislature is willing to actually ban the procedure:

"I think at the end the day, our policy will be more restrictive than the model policy," Chief Waldrop said. "The survey was more or less to determine the types of cases and the prevalence."

He said police expected to find that almost all the showups involved robberies. But that was true in only 13 of the cases. Ten were vehicle burglaries. Seven were thefts and five were burglaries. One was a sexual assault. ...

Lt. Pughes said there is no way to determine whether the showups were done improperly because the reports do not reflect how the showups were conducted.

Although the practice is highly suggestive, sometimes showups are conducted when suspects are in handcuffs or in the back of a patrol car. The planned DPD policy will forbid this.

It's particularly telling that no documentation is kept about when and how this procedure is used, making it easy to fudge results or to overlook cases where witnesses got it wrong. In any even, reports the News, for now:

No policy limits or prohibits showups, but a training bulletin issued last month forbids single-photo showups when the witness does not know the suspect by name and face.

But before the end of this year, DPD will begin tracking showups to better understand how often they occur, and the department will require a supervisor's presence at all such identifications, Chief Waldrop said. He said a department showup policy and training regimen will begin within 30 days.

The policy will have guidelines to make showups less suggestive, limit how long after a crime they can be conducted, and prevent them if an arrest can be made without them.

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