Minimizing Errors of Justice: The Role of the Police

Brian Forst, The American University

ABSTRACT
The legitimacy of the criminal justice system is undermined by errors of justice, two major categories of which are harms imposed on innocent persons by the criminal justice system and failures to bring culpable offenders to justice. This paper considers the evidence that points to the police as a source of those errors. It then asks what police can do to minimize the social costs associated with errors of justice -- through better systems of accountability, more effective leadership and supervision, and improved screening and training. Specific sources of errors examined include the flawed exercise of discretion in responding to calls and in reporting crimes and making arrests, improper witness identification proceures, false confessions, improper use of informants, flawed and fraudulent evidence processing and forensic procedures, and incentive systems that induce covering up of errors. The effects of recent developments in policing arealso considered, including community and problem-oriented policing, investigative profiling and use of modus operandi files, and the effects of the federalization of policing associated with the new terrorist era of policing. This paper is part of a larger project to identify the nature and sources of justice errors and find remedies.

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Updated 05/20/2006