Innocence Blog

Finding Common Ground with Law Enforcement

Posted: November 23, 2012 1:50 pm

By Lisa Burger
State Policy Advocate

 
As one of the Innocence Project’s State Policy Advocates, I have observed firsthand that policy reform efforts composed of diverse, and even seemingly opposed, groups often have the greatest success. One recent example of such efforts took place at the Ada County Sheriff’s Office in Boise, Idaho. Together with the Idaho Innocence Project, we brought together law enforcement, lobbyists, prosecutors and defense lawyers to take part in an eyewitness identification educational seminar on November 13.
 
Given the adversarial nature of our system of justice, it may seem as if the group would struggle to find common ground, however, we do have at least one common goal: To ensure that innocent people are not wrongfully convicted of crimes. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, a contributing factor in approximately 75% of DNA exoneration cases. Yes, these problems can be prevented; simple modifications to law enforcement identification procedures have been proven to reduce the rate of misidentification. Additionally, of the law enforcement agencies across the country that have adopted evidenced-based protocols, we are aware of none that have chosen to return to traditional identification methods.
 
The Idaho seminar provided a continued learning opportunity for attendees and a forum for discussion on how best to move forward with eyewitness identification reform across the state. Overall, the seminar was a success, and the vast majority of attendees thought the material was good to excellent. Feedback included: “Well done and very worthwhile for law enforcement to hear and learn.” and “Great information. Realize how my agency needs to change in regard to [eyewitness identification protocols].
 
Part of the Innocence Project’s core mission is to bring substantive reform to the criminal justice system in an effort to reduce the occurrence of wrongful convictions. It’s a lofty reform agenda, but with common goals in mind and participation from a diverse range of stakeholders, I’m confident we will achieve great results.