Interactive 3D police lineups improve eyewitness accuracy

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Adding an interactive 3D element to police lineups can help eyewitnesses more accurately identify perpetrators, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Birmingham created the software behind these findings themselves, and then tested it out with a group of volunteers.

This potentially game-changing new technology allows eyewitnesses to rotate and view lineup faces from different angles. Sure enough, when participants were able to rotate the image of the potential suspect to match the alignment of the face in their memory, they were much more likely to correctly pick out the true criminal from the lineup.

Police all over the world use suspect lineups to help identify criminals. They typically consist of a suspect surrounded by a few “fillers,” or people who share a similar appearance that aren’t actually criminals. Of course, it goes without saying that lineups are serious business, but they’re not always 100 percent reliable. According to the US-based Innocence Project, eyewitness lineup misidentification is the single biggest cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

“We worked closely with law enforcement to develop the interactive lineup procedure to be cost effective and work with current police identification systems. The procedure is a significant advance in improving the accuracy of eyewitness identifications,” say co-lead researcher Professor Heather Flowe in a university release.

3D allows witnesses to match up ‘the angle’ of the crime

Study authors recruited over 3,000 volunteers to “witness” a crime. Each participant viewed a video of a fictitious crime before researchers showed them images of both the perpetrator and a group of fillers.

Overall accuracy among volunteers improved tremendously when the software allowed participants to view the lineup from the very same angle they had seen the perpetrator commit the crime. All in all, accuracy was highest when participants rotated all lineup faces to match the viewed angle of the perpetrator. Most participants moved the images into the best angle for identification without the research team telling them to.

“There are good reasons to predict that accuracy will be higher if witnesses are able to manipulate images and align them to be similar to the angle of the face in their memory. We know that retrieving memories accurately relies on the context in which they are retrieved being similar to when the memory was formed. The experiments we carried out show this theory in practice. Our participants actively sought out a familiar angle for the lineup image, to help them retrieve information from memory,” study co-author Dr. Melissa Colloff concludes.

Study authors published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

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