California cops ignore science on lineups, keep sending innocents to jail

It's been known for years that eyewitness identification of suspects is extremely unreliable; many unlucky souls have been sent to prison on a mistaken ID. It's also understood that the way police handle the witness makes an enormous difference in whether they are likely to get it wrong. The State of California has created guidelines to mitigate the problem. 

The law now requires police to use evidence-based practices in handling eyewitnesses. It's based on decades of scientific research into the causes of inaccurate and unreliable eyewitness testimony — the kind that has put innocent people in prison for decades and even for life.

Of course, that only helps if police departments follow the guidelines and… big surprise, many don't. This piece in the LA Times claims that many departments are essentially still doing things the old fashioned way.

As of 2020, the law requires California police agencies to conduct "blind" lineups in which the administrator doesn't know the suspect's identity; admonish eyewitnesses that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup, that they don't have to make an identification and that the investigation will continue even if they don't; ascertain and document an eyewitness' confidence in any identification; use photos that generally fit the eyewitness' description; and record the entire identification procedure.

In other words — common sense. But…

While the state's police departments have generally acknowledged their obligations under the new law, many are failing to comply with it.

Here's part of the reason: 

Compounding the problem is Lexipol, a for-profit company that produces most California police departments' policy manuals. The company created an eyewitness identification policy that wrongly downplays or misrepresents law enforcement's obligations.

Sigh. What is it about human nature that makes institutional reform so difficult? Government, Catholic Church, police — giant, entrenched bureaucracies are experts at resisting change or even seeing the need for change. They hate outsiders telling them what to do, even when it's in their own best interest. 

Humans are a very frustrating species.

Previously: Lego tells California police department to stop using minifig heads to obscure suspects` faces