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National Survey of Eyewitness Identification Procedures in Law Enforcement Agencies

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2013
142 pages
This report presents the findings and methodology of the Police Executive Research Forum's (PERF's) nationwide assessment of the state of the field in eyewitness identification procedures being used by law enforcement agencies.

The survey found that police agencies use a variety of eyewitness-identification procedures and that most police agencies have not fully implemented all of the recommendations of the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) "Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement" (NIJ Guide), which was published in 1999. Most of the surveyed agencies did not have written policies for eyewitness identification procedures. The most commonly used procedure (94.1 percent of agencies responding) was the photo lineup. Other procedures used in order of frequency were show-ups, composite sketches, "mugshot" searches, and live lineups. Generally, when agencies used a particular procedure, they used it for most, if not all, Part I offenses in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) system. Large agencies (500 or more sworn officers) were more likely to report having a written policy for each of the eyewitness procedures used. Given the importance of eyewitness identifications in the Justice system and the growing number of exonerations of persons who have been convicted based primarily on eyewitness identifications, this study recommends that law enforcement agencies work with prosecutors and other criminal justice agencies in assessing and refining their current eyewitness identification practices in compliance with procedures recommended in the 1999 NIJ Guide. Also, field and case studies should be performed in continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of "blind" and "sequential" eyewitness procedures. This study consisted of a comprehensive review of relevant research, a national survey of a random stratified sample of U.S. law enforcement agencies, and a series of in-depth follow-up interviews with officials in 30 selected agencies. 24 tables, 3 figures, 59 references, and appended survey questionnaire and glossary

Date Published: March 1, 2013