Posts Tagged ‘boston’

Dallas police pioneering new photo lineup approach

August 21, 2009


By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press Writer,  Fri Aug 21, 7:30 am ET

DALLAS – Frustrated with a string of wrongful convictions, the Dallas police department is now the nation’s largest force to use sequential blind photo lineups — a widely praised technique designed to reduce mistakes made by witnesses trying to identify suspects.

Dallas is not the first department to use the pioneering method. But experts hope that by using it in the county that leads the nation in exonerating wrongly convicted inmates, Dallas will inspire other departments to follow suit.

“If Dallas can do it … then others are going to rise to the occasion,” said Iowa State psychology professor Gary Wells, a national expert on police lineups.

The department switched to sequential blind lineups in April. Before that, Dallas police administered most lineups using the traditional six-pack — law-enforcement lingo for mounting six photos onto a folder and showing them to a witness or victim at the same time.

In sequential blind lineups, mug shots are shown one at a time. Detectives displaying the photos also don’t know who the suspect is, which means they can’t purposely or accidentally tip off witnesses.

Showing possible suspects all at once tends to make a witness compare the mug shots to one another, Wells said. But if they are shown sequentially, “witnesses have to dig deeper, compare each person to their memory and make more of an absolute decision.”

“It makes witnesses more conservative, more cautious,” he said.

An analysis of 26 recent studies shows that presenting mug shots sequentially instead of simultaneously produces fewer identifications but more accurate ones, Wells said. Overall, identification rates in sequential lineups are 15 percent lower than simultaneous lineups — but misidentification rates also drop by 39 percent, he said.

Dallas is taking other measures to try to cut back on misidentifications. Police try to record every lineup to make them more credible, and a lineup unit tells witnesses that police will investigate the case regardless of whether an identification is made. That’s designed to reduce pressure on a witness to make an ID for fear the case will stagnate, said Dallas police Lt. David Pughes.

Dallas police also ask witnesses to express how confident they are in their identifications, Pughes said. That’s to avoid what Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck calls a “forced-choice response” when police, intentionally or not, nudge a witness into expressing certainty.

That’s what happened to Thomas McGowan, a wrongly convicted Dallas County man released last year after nearly 23 years in prison for a rape and robbery he did not commit.

Police in the Dallas suburb of Richardson gave the victim, who was held captive by her attacker for several hours, several photos including McGowan’s and the man that DNA eventually proved to be the rapist. She picked out McGowan’s photo, saying she “thought” he was the attacker. Police told her she had to be certain and “couldn’t just think it was him.” It was then she said McGowan was “definitely” the attacker, according to court documents.

McGowan recently met his accuser, who apologized. He said he believes police should use an independent person to administer lineups. The Richardson department now has a written policy that states a preference for but doesn’t require an independent lineup administrator.

“They showed me the picture of the guy, and to me the guy looked nothing like me,” McGowan said. “I’m still trying to figure that one out.”

Nationally, more than 75 percent of DNA exonerees who have been released since 1989 were sent to prison based on witness misidentification, according to The Innocence Project, a New York legal center specializing in overturning wrongful convictions. It’s the most common element in a wrongful conviction, the center said.

Since 2001, 21 people in Dallas County have had convictions overturned after DNA proved their innocence. A majority of them were in the city of Dallas.

In May, Jerry Lee Evans, of Dallas, had his conviction overturned after spending 23 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon. The rape victim wrongly identified him as her attacker.

In another case, Johnnie Earl Lindsey spent more than 25 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. The victim said her attacker didn’t wear a shirt. A year later, the victim picked out Lindsey — one of two shirtless men among the six photos. Lindsey, of Dallas, was released last year after DNA showed he was innocent.

Boston, Minneapolis and Denver use sequential blind lineups or some variation. New Jersey and North Carolina have mandated police do the same. Most police departments, however, continue to use the six-pack or other traditional methods.

“There’s a belief that as long as what you are doing is legal, then you just keep doing it because you believe it is working for you,” Wells said.

In Dallas, police were initially resistant to the new lineups because “they thought we were creating obstacles to getting bad guys off the street,” Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop said.

But after about 1,200 lineups, identification rates have not changed — though it is too early tell if there’s been a decline in mistaken ID rates.


More US police using gunfire detection system

March 23, 2009

By TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press Writer

Engineer Stephan Noetzel alerts a police officer to gunshots on Illinois Street AP – Engineer Stephan Noetzel alerts a police officer to gunshots on Illinois Street Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 …

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. – It happened moments after a police sergeant blasted a shot into a sand-filled barrel to test this city’s expanded gunfire tracking system.

Witnesses suddenly heard “Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!”

Those gunshots were real. A flashing red “multiple shots” banner and an address appeared on a nearby laptop, and officers quickly located a 28-year-old man who had been shot by a masked man.

He survived. “He’s lucky,” Capt. Carl Estelle said.

East Palo Alto is the first U.S. city completely wired with ShotSpotter, a system of strategically placed acoustic sensors linked to a computer designed to help police locate gunfire in high-crime areas, but the technology is spreading. Thirty-six cities across America are currently using ShotSpotter — triple the number two years ago.

Cash-strapped police departments are receiving millions in federal funds to buy the system, despite debate over whether it effectively fights crime. And now cities such as Indianapolis and Trenton, N.J., hope to use federal stimulus money to pay for ShotSpotter.

Officials from the Mountain View, Calif.-based company say the technology has helped cities reduce gunfire rates by 60 to 80 percent and violent crime by 40 percent. They say the system detects dozens of gunfire incidents daily in 114 square miles inhabited by more than 774,000 people in cities such as Boston, Chicago and New Orleans.

“Every city that has it tells me when they go to where the dot is, they find evidence,” said Gregg Rowland, ShotSpotter’s senior vice president.

But former Boston police lieutenant Thomas Nolan questions whether the money spent on the technology could better be used to hire more police.

“The cops I talk to on the street think ShotSpotter is a joke,” said Nolan, associate criminal justice professor at Boston University.

A square-mile of ShotSpotter coverage costs $200,000 to $250,000 the company said.

Supporters say the system can help police respond rapidly to violent incidents.

“If someone is severely shot, those critical seconds or minutes could be the difference between life and death,” said Rochester, N.Y., Mayor Robert Duffy, a former police chief and chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Criminal and Social Justice Committee.

The largest ShotSpotter installation is in Washington, where it covers 16 square miles. Besides locating gunshots, the system also proved two off-duty D.C. officers did not fire first when they killed a 14-year-old boy in 2007.

In Minneapolis, the technology helped officers find this year’s first homicide victim in subzero temperatures.

Gang-infested East Palo Alto, where nine people were wounded in five shootings in recent months, is now a testing ground for Shotspotter, thanks to a $200,000 federal grant and a deep discount. This working class community of 2.6 square miles and about 30,000 residents sits next to tony Palo Alto.

Some officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, which has awarded millions of dollars in similar grants around the country, cautioned that ShotSpotter’s affect on crime has not been adequately evaluated.

The technology only works when combined with other law enforcement practices, said John Morgan, deputy director for science and technology at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in Washington.

“You hear a gunshot, and naively you think it helps the cops,” Morgan said. “You’re sending a lot of cops on chases, but not necessarily catching a lot of people committing crimes.”

ShotSpotter needs the sort of independent scientific scrutiny that a smaller competitor, SECURES, has undergone, said Peter Scharf, a public health professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Last year, Scharf co-authored a report to the NIJ that concluded that while officers thought SECURES was useful, there were high rates of false calls. The report also questioned whether money spent on gunshot detection technology could be better used for more policing. “You have to be skeptical with any technology of this type,” Scharf said. “It’s hard to prove its effectiveness.”

The maker of SECURES_ used in East Orange, N.J., Harrisburg, Pa., Prince Georges, Md. and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore_ dispute the report’s findings. Virginia-based Planning Systems Inc. says its product is most effective paired with technology such as surveillance cameras.

“It becomes an alert mechanism for a video system that normally would not be able to react to such events,” said George Orrison, Planning Systems, Inc.’s marketing securities technologies director. “It provides for more ‘ears and eyes’ on the street.”

ShotSpotter was founded in 1996 by San Francisco Bay Area engineer Robert Showen, who was trying to develop a sensor system to detect earthquakes.

Coffee-can sized sensors are usually placed on telephone poles and roofs, and are linked to a central computer. The system can pinpoint shots with the help of Global Positioning System navigation, alerting dispatchers or police officers within seconds.

Ed Hoskins, a project manager at the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center in Charleston, S.C., said he believes ShotSpotter is a good investigative tool. “If it helps catch criminals in the act, then that’s a bonus,” he said.

San Francisco, which had 99 homicides last year, has installed ShotSpotter at three locations. In January, ShotSpotter tracking led to the arrests of three men who allegedly fired at mourners outside a funeral home.

Noting that San Francisco spent more than $50 million in 2007 to treat gun injuries, police Lt. Mikail Ali, a senior advisor in the mayor’s criminal justice office, said it would be worthwhile to expand the gunshot-detection system.

“You can’t just turn the system on and mysteriously have a decrease in gunfire,” Ali added. “Like any other tool, it’s not the tool itself, it’s the carpenter behind the tool

Boston cop accused of escorting porn stars to club

February 6, 2009

From The Associated Press via Yahoo!News

BOSTON – A Boston police officer is being investigated for allegedly helping two gay porn stars cut through traffic to get to a nightclub. Police said the officer, whose name has not been released, has been placed on desk duty for allegedly using his cruiser to escort a car from Logan International Airport to the Roxy nightclub last October.

A law enforcement official close to the investigation confirmed Friday the escort was for Aden and Jordan Jaric, a couple from Sacramento, Calif., who perform in live strip shows and pornography as “Brangelina.” The official was not authorized to speak about the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A phone listing for the Jarics could not immediately be found.

Boston police learned of the alleged escort after a photo of a police cruiser in one of Boston’s highway tunnels, along with comments about the trip, were posted on a blog.

The night after the Jarics were at the Roxy, they performed a show at a Providence, R.I., male nude club called Trixx All Male Revue.

Providence police uncovered the photograph while investigating a report of explicit sexual activity at the Trixx show. When they realized the photo was of a Boston police cruiser, they contacted the city, the law enforcement official said.

The official said it appears the officer escorted the men from Logan airport to the Roxy, but not to Providence.