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Austin Police: Change to Lineup Procedure Can Cut Down on False Arrests, Convictions

The Austin Police Department has announced some changes to its suspect lineup procedures.

APD investigators must now present photographs and live lineups sequentially to all adult victims and witnesses. This means investigators are now required to present each photograph or individual one at a time to a witness during a lineup – not all at once.

“We are not interested in wrongfully accusing or convicting somebody that is innocent,” Chief Art Acevedo said today at a press conference announcing the change. “It is not the fabric of this department. We’d rather go with zero arrests than arrest the wrong person.”

APD cited a study from the American Judicature Society in making the change – not just any study, but one it participated in.

Field experiments in four police departments, including Austin (where the majority of the data came from) utilized a standardized, computerized sequential line-up.

The department will also present lineups in a “double blind” format, meaning neither the witness or the presenting detective knows who APD’s suspect is.

Acevedo said APD uses double-blind lineups so its officers “don’t make any suggestions or … gestures, or even subconsciously do something to influence a witness or victim’s identification.”

The study found that sequential identification yielded a suspect ID 27.3 percent of the time, compared to 25.5 percent of the time in what Acevedo called the simultaneous, “six pack” lineup. But the study also notes that “The rates of non-identification were 56.4 percent for the simultaneous and 60.5 percent for the sequential,” which Acevedo says can cut down on false convictions.

“We believe that with a double blind administration, coupled with the sequential administration, were taking a huge step – a huge step – into ensuring that a person is not wrongly identified, charged, and in some instances, sadly, convicted of a crime they did not commit,” Acevedo said. 

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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