A model policy and training on the use of eyewitness identification procedures by police in Texas will be developed by the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) at Sam Houston State University.
Under a Texas legislative bill signed into law on June 17, all law enforcement agencies in Texas will be required to adopt a written policy on procedures for live and photo lineup identifications. LEMIT has been charged with developing a model policy and training materials based on scientific research and on collaboration with small, medium and large police departments and associations.
"LEMIT is pleased to work with many interested groups in developing this policy," said Dr. Rita Watkins, Executive Director of the agency. "It is important that standards of practice protect all people in this important process."
The new law comes in the wake of 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.
"Eyewitness testimony and the running of identification parades are critical subjects, not least for the reason that potential witnesses’ accounts of what they believe they have seen needs to be handled very carefully to ensure fairness and not to compromise the integrity of the investigation and any subsequent prosecution," said Dr. David Webb, Assistant Director of the Institute.
Once a policy is approved, LEMIT also will be responsible for developing a training for all peace officers in the state on the new procedures. The training will likely be delivered through an online course.
LEMIT is a nationally recognized program offering premiere professional development opportunities in policing. It the largest and most sophisticated statewide preparation program for police management in the United States and provides officers the opportunity to develop their administrative, analytical, and executive skills.