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Placer praised for policy

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The Placer County District Attorney’s Office was recently praised for its suspect identification program. Northern California Project Innocence, a group based in Santa Clara that investigates cases of wrongful convictions through eyewitness misidentification, awarded the praise. Garen Horst, senior deputy district attorney for Placer County, developed a policy that is used by law agencies throughout the county to make sure eyewitnesses are correctly identifying a person or people who committed crimes. These guidelines help ensure innocent people are not being prosecuted for or convicted of crimes, according to Art Campos, spokesman for the Placer County District Attorney’s Office. According to Campos, Horst was interested in bringing a uniform suspect identification policy to Placer County, because it was very difficult for the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute without one. The policy includes information to aid and instruct local law enforcement agencies on conducting photo lineups, live lineups and in-field showups to make sure a witness is able to identify a suspect as accurately as possible, Campos said. An in-field showup involves a witness or victim identifying a suspect at a crime or arrest scene, according to Campos. The instruction also informs officers to make sure victims know they don’t have to feel pressured to identify someone if they can’t, and that the investigation would still continue anyway, according to Campos. Roseville Police Lt. Mike Doane said this can make the process easier on witnesses and victims. “Crime victims want to cooperate with the police and they may feel the pressure to select someone from a photo lineup,” Doane said. “The new policy will help relieve some of that pressure, focusing on accuracy and reminding them that it’s OK not to identify a photo.” Horst created a training video that can be used by officers and deputies throughout Placer County, Campos said. Maitreya Badami, supervising attorney for Project Innocence, said she enjoyed the District Attorney Office’s power point presentation and training video for several reasons. “I … liked that at the beginning of Placer’s presentation, Mr. Horst mentioned the goals of their identification policy,” Badami said. “He said the most important goal was accuracy, or the protection of the innocent. That’s not necessarily the first thing that law enforcement agencies would think about. Most of the time, a police agency has identified a suspect and they’re looking to prove the person guilty. I certainly understand that. But before you go too far, you have to make sure you are protecting the innocent.” Badami said after reviewing identification policies from 400 Californian law enforcement agencies, Placer and Santa Clara counties’ were the best. “California is not cleaned up,” she said “There are a lot of agencies falling short on their identification policies. We hope they take Placer’s lead and get it done.” ~Staff report