Hugh McQuaid Photo
Eyewitness Identification Task Force meets (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Legislators heard encouraging news from police Thursday on the implementation of new criminal lineup standards passed last year to improve the recollection of crime witnesses.

Crime witnesses frequently misidentify suspects in criminal lineups because of the human tendency to pick out the person who looks the most like the offender, even if the offender is not in the lineup, according to studies.

Although legislating changes to how lineups are administered had been a controversial issue in previous years, lawmakers passed a bill during the last session that required police to present potential offenders to witnesses one at a time rather than all at once. It also asks departments to take steps to prevent officers from indicating to the witness which person they believe is guilty.

At a meeting of the Eyewitness Identification Task Force on Thursday, Bridgeport Police Cpt. James Viadero said his department’s detectives have had training and are using the new standards.

“It’s been a seamless process,” he told the group. “. . . It hasn’t created a burden at all. Just being cognizant of it was the biggest burden, getting the training, making sure that officers are adhering to the policy.”

Viadero, who is commander of the city’s Detective Division, said the department has administered 58 photo-lineups since the new policy was implemented. In 12 of those instances, the witness picked out the suspect police believed to be the offender.

Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Gerald Fox said he was glad departments were not having a difficult time adopting the policy. Police associations and prosecutors opposed a version of the legislation in 2010.

“It’s very encouraging to see the way you embraced the recommendations that were presented and the way your department is going about it. If you can do it in Bridgeport with the greatest population in the state, hopefully it can be implemented anywhere,” Fox said.

As lawmakers debated passing lineup changes, some smaller police departments expressed concerns regarding how they would implement certain policies with limited staff. One of the recommendations asked departments to conduct lineups “double-blind,” meaning the detective interacting with the witness during the lineup should not know who the suspect is.

The law allows departments to use an alternative to the “double-blind” method by putting potential offender photos in separate folders then shuffling the folders so the officer does not know which photos the witness is examining.

Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello said his department has been able to use the folder method.

“We’re a much smaller department obviously. We’ve done 10 identifications thus far, but we’ve used the folder shuffle eight times,” he said. “. . . We did have experience with it and it worked very well.”

There have been some hangups as police adapt to the new policy. Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo said he declined to prosecute one case in the Stamford and Norwalk district because of the lineup procedure used. In that case, he said police rounded out their lineup with photos of people who looked nothing like the suspect.