NCIP Staff Attorney and Policy Liason Melissa O’Connell
For many years, law enforcement agencies in California were given discretion as to the procedures they used to collect and preserve eyewitness evidence. Thirty years of social science research has shown that the procedures law enforcement officers use can prevent undue influence of a witness and improve the accuracy of identifications. In 2018, after 12 hard-fought years by NCIP to get eyewitness identification reform legislation passed in California, then Governor Brown signed NCIP co-sponsored Senate Bill 923 (codified as California Penal Code § 859.7), legislation which mandates law enforcement’s use of best practices when conducting live or photo lineups. The new law took effect on January 1, 2020.
Now that eyewitness identification reform legislation has been enacted in California, NCIP seeks to assess whether agencies have developed and implemented the written policies as required by law. To make this assessment, NCIP sent Public Records Act requests to 575 California law enforcement agencies that conduct eyewitness procedures, compelling them to disclose their policies, procedures and training materials concerning the collection and preservation of eyewitness identification evidence. NCIP developed a spreadsheet to track which agencies are in compliance with the new law, which are in partial compliance, and which have failed to incorporate any of the best practices as required by law. In addition, NCIP is tracking which agencies incorporate other best practices into their policies that are not required by law. NCIP will analyze the compiled data and author a report with findings. NCIP will publish and disseminate its findings and underlying data on its website and make it available to the public, with individual department, county, and statewide statistics.