LEMIT Trains Law Enforcement on Texas Eyewitness ID Practices

Photo of men looking through a glass partition at a police lineup.


The Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) will team up with the Texas Police Chiefs Association (TPCA) to offer “Train the Trainer” programs for law enforcement agencies across the state on a model policy and procedures for eyewitness identification.

Following several high profile criminal cases overturned by faulty eyewitness identification, the Texas Legislature mandated that all law enforcement agencies that conduct photo or live lineups adopt policies and procedures on the practice by September 2012. The Legislature asked LEMIT at Sam Houston State University to develop a model policy and training that could be used as a resource for law enforcement agencies. LEMIT has scheduled four trainings in Huntsville, Plano and Austin, and the TPCA plans will offer up to eight sessions to train representatives from smaller agencies in the state on the model policy.

“My hope is what they will learn is the application of the eyewitness identification process established through scientific evidence and founded on best practices,” said Dr. Rita Watkins, Executive Director of LEMIT. “With these policies and procedures, they will have the opportunity to develop their own procedures that they can apply in their own communities.”

LEMIT’s eight-hour “Train the Trainer” session will provide lesson plans, videos, and background materials so that those participating in the session can train others in their agency or region on the best practices available for eyewitness identification in criminal cases. The session will include background information, science and research, the legal background, policy issues, and procedural guidelines. Participants will get demonstrations and hands-on practice with photo and live lineups.

The TPCA will offer four-hour sessions for smaller law enforcement agencies in outlying areas. They will be scheduled following the “Train the Trainer” sessions.

“The important part of this is to get the word out that here is today’s best way to do this,” said Retired Chief James McLaughlin, Executive Director of the TPCA. “They also have to understand what the law requires.”

Among the key recommendations of the model policy are:

  • The person administering the lineup should not know who the suspect is.
  • Photo lineups should be done sequentially, with one photo shown at a time, to improve chances of accurate identification.
  • The filler photos used should be similar to the suspect and match the witnesses’ descriptions.
  • Witnesses should be provided with clear instructions, including a statement that the perpetrator may or may not be in the photo or live lineup. Precautions must be taken to ensure that witnesses don’t encounter other witnesses, suspects, or those used as fillers before or after the lineup procedure.
  • The use of showups, where suspects are presented to a witness shortly after the crime, should be avoided and should be used only under limited circumstances.
  • All eyewitness identification processes should be documented, preferably by audio or video recordings.
  • Interpreters should be used in eyewitness identification procedures when the witness doesn’t speak English.

The trainings will be funded through a $40,000 grant by Texas Court of Criminal Appeal. The grant will pay for training materials and to allow law enforcement officers to attend the sessions at no cost.

“The law has changed,” said Judge Barbara Hervey of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “We want everyone in the system to be on the same page…It’s a worthwhile project and important to the criminal justice field.”

The “Train the Trainer” sessions are scheduled for May 22 and June 25 in Huntsville; June 1 in Plano and July 11 in Austin. Registration is required. For more information, visit www.lemitonline.org.

Member of The Texas State University System