Public Release: 

SHSU eyewitness ID study earns gold for Houston police

Sam Houston State University


IMAGE: William Wells, Ph.D. is affiliated with Sam Houston State University. view more

Credit: Harriet McHale/SHSU

HUNTVILLE, TX (12/2/14) -- The Houston Police Department took home the Gold Award in Research from the International Association of Chiefs of Police for an experiment conducted in collaboration with Sam Houston State University on eyewitness identification procedures.

"The Houston Police Department has had a long standing relationship with Sam Houston State University," said Martha I. Montalvo, Executive Assistant Chief at the Houston Police Department. "SHSU has long been our partner in identifying best practices. The goal in this study was to ascertain which eyewitness identification method was more reliable. Surprisingly, the study determined that no one method was more reliable than the other. The department has established a committee of seasoned investigators to look at the study and determine how best to incorporate the results into our policies and procedures."

The study, "The Houston Police Department Eyewitness Identification Experiment: Analysis and Results," tested four different methods of presenting photo spreads to robbery eyewitnesses to determine if the methods produced different patterns of eyewitness selection results. The results showed the methods did not differ in important ways.

The findings from this experiment contribute to an ongoing discussion in the criminal justice community about the best ways to conduct eyewitness identification procedures. The Houston Police Department results were based on an analysis of surveys from more than 700 photo spread procedures conducted in 2013.

The experiment looked at four variations of eyewitness identification procedures, including sequential and simultaneous presentations, and blind and blinded procedures. In the sequential presentation, the eyewitness viewed photos one at a time, while in a simultaneous presentation, all photos are viewed at the same time.

"The lack of differences between the methods of showing photos is consistent with more recent discussions in the literature that suggest one method is not clearly superior," said William Wells, author of the SHSU study. "In addition, research on the sources of erroneous convictions demonstrates that reforms should be multi-faceted and should not focus exclusively on police eyewitness identification procedures."

"The Houston Police Department deeply appreciates Sam Houston State University's efforts and professionalism in conducting this experiment and producing results that can be used to develop best practices and policies in the area of eyewitness identification," said Capt. Lori Bender with the Houston Police Department Robbery Division. "Dr. William Wells and his associates were very knowledgeable and thorough and a pleasure to work with."

The experiment earned the Gold Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement Research from the International Association of Chiefs of Police at its annual conference in October. The award is presented to law enforcement agencies that demonstrate excellence in conducting and using research to improve police operations and public safety. The goal of the award is to establish effective research and promote partnerships with researchers.


The IACP is the oldest and largest non-profit member organization of police executives, with over 16,000 in 94 countries.

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