Posted on 29/06/2011
Academics at Royal Holloway, University of London are working with the police to improve the video identification procedures for obtaining eyewitness evidence from witnesses in the hope of bringing more criminals to justice.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology contacted police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to obtain a copy of their current procedures and guidelines for conducting video parades and recorded the identification decisions of over 1, 500 witnesses across four police forces.
The team, led by Professor Amina Memon, noted one of the main advantages of video parades is that they allow police officers to conduct parades within 24 hours of a crime being committed increasing the chances of obtaining reliable evidence from witnesses. As well as being able to obtain evidence promptly, this also may mean that police do not lose valuable witnesses. They also found that video parades were as effective as live and photo parades.
The researchers found a higher rate of suspect identifications for violent offences and sexual assaults as compared to burglary and robbery and more suspect identifications when suspects were of the same race as the witness. The research also supported the general finding is that the accuracy of identification drops over time although this does depend on a number of factors such as whether or not the suspect and witness are acquainted.
Professor Memon explained: “We found numerous examples of good practice which was encouraging and this shows that the police forces in the UK are doing a good job. However, we also found there was not always consistency in practice and some variations in how the codes of practice were applied by the different forces. For example, all police forces make it clear to witnesses that the police suspect may not be the culprit. In other words witnesses are told they do not have to make a selection. However, some police forces make sure witnesses understand this instruction by reminding them and checking that this point is understood while other forces do not. One of the aims of the project was to identify ways of improving witness care by making sure that they do fully understand what they are being asked to do and to provide them with sufficient support.
The researchers asked identification officers to record (demographic) characteristics of the witness, suspect, whether the suspect was known to the witness, the crime type, aspects of the procedure such as the number of times witnesses viewed the parade and any specific image, whether witnesses made an identification and how relaxed or stressed they appeared before, during and after the parade. They also asked whether the witness was taking part in more than one parade which may have been the case if there were multiple suspects. They also kept a record of whether there were multiple witnesses.
The existing Police and Evidence Codes of Practice (PACE) requires witnesses to view the entire video line-up, which is made up of the suspect and at least eight volunteers shown in a 15 second moving video clip, at least twice before making a decision. But the researchers have found that the repeated viewing of the line-up could lead witnesses to make faulty decisions and choose a foil (volunteer) rather than identifying the suspect. This is something the researchers are looking into.
Video identification parades can be put together in a relatively short period of time, reducing the time delay between witnessing an event and making an identification,” says Professor Memon. “But repeated viewing may increase pressure on the witness to make a choice even when they do not have a clear memory.”
These findings will be presented to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) visual and voice identification strategy group and the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) to take forward.
Detective Inspector Carwyn Hughes from Sussex Police said: "This will hopefully help us to have a national, uniformed approach to identification parades as opposed to 43 police forces up and down the country acting independently. It’s about learning from this psychological research to ensure victims and witnesses are given the best opportunities to successfully identify culprits of crime and bring them to justice."
Inspector Mike Smith of Warwickshire Police added: "The research has produced some very interesting results, which I'm sure will impact positively upon the way forces arrange video identification parades in the future."