In Washington Area, Police Lineups Fall from Favor


Like woolen uniforms, wooden batons and six-shot revolvers, the old-fashioned lineup is a vanishing part of police work.

The D.C. police department is the only one in the Washington area that still uses it regularly, reports the Washington Post.

Police departments today are far more apt to ask victims or witnesses to identify photographs of suspects instead of the suspects themselves. Detectives can use computer programs to comb through photo databases, and can quickly create an array of pictures from which a suspect can be identified at any time or place.

Lineups, however, are conducted in the same time-consuming way they have been for generations. The suspect still stands uneasily among other people — the fillers — under the glare of bright lights and behind one-way glass. Most lineups in the District have eight people who wear numbers on chains around their necks. The victim or witness, on the other side of the glass, is asked by police if anyone looks like the culprit.

Defense attorneys have complained about the process for years, saying it is open to the powers of suggestion. But the lineup’s demise has little to do with that issue and stems from a more basic problem: Although there are plenty of suspects, it is difficult to round up the fillers–often cops–to stand beside them. And that makes the photo arrays much more convenient.


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