In yesterday’s post on the DOJ/New Orleans PD consent decree, I pointed out that early news reports said that the decree required a science-based best practice: audio and video recording of suspect interrogations. Now that we can read the full consent decree itself, we can see that it requires science-based methods of conducting photo lineups with eyewitnesses, too.
Paragraphs 171 through 173 of the decree require three of the most important changes that scientists have long recommended: blind line ups, in which the administrator of the lineup does not know which of the pictures shown is the actual suspect; telling the witness that the perpetrator may or may not be present; and the proper selection of “filler” photographs. All of these procedures are fundamental to avoiding cognitive biases, and with them erroneous identifications.
We also see in paragraph 164 of the decree that the requirement to record interrogations applies only to suspects in homicides and sexual assaults, but that the recording must include the entire questioning session between suspect and police. Police will not be allowed to do an unrecorded “pre-interview,” which is actually an interrogation that gets the suspect to admit guilt, and then a recorded “confession” that does not show how the confession was obtained.
The consent decree ranges across a host of other subjects. But it is truly good to see the Department of Justice put its considerable weight into moving police departments toward the best that science has to offer. This won’t cut through law enforcement’s resistance to science all by itself, but it will help.