Ask anyone what it is that police do all day and the following things are likely to feature in one way or another – driving through piles of cardboard boxes, chasing bad guys across rooftops, throwing our badges at the lieutenant, crewing up with someone who only has one day until retirement, eating doughnuts, lining up dodgy suspects for an ID parade.
Whilst we do indeed do all of the above on a regular basis, it’s the ID parade that I’m going to concentrate on in this post. What are they, why do we do them and are they really like they look in the movies?
No, they’re not.
Before we get to the procedure itself though, why do we have to do them in the first place?
An ID parade is basically a process that helps us either strengthen the case against a suspect or eliminate them from an investigation. They’ll be held when a suspect disputes that he or she was the person seen by a witness during the commission of an offence.
To give an example, I’ll call upon my go to criminal, Billy*, who has just been seen by two witnesses running out of a butchers on the high street clutching strings of stolen sausages. The police arrive at the scene, take notes of Billy’s description from the two witnesses and then after a brief search locate Billy around the corner. As he matches the description given he’s arrested under suspicion of theft.
Back at the station Billy is interviewed and decides to deny that he was involved in the incident. “Well officers, the awful criminal responsible for this crime certainly sounds like he looks a lot like me but I had nothing to do with it” he says. He’s asked if he’s willing to take part in an ID parade and he agrees, hence an Inspector comes to see him and formally serves the written request for the parade.
It’s at this point that many people might think the officers will begin calling around for people who look a bit like Billy to come and stand next to him in a line up.
What actually happens is that Billy is sat down in the same photo booth that would have been used to take his custody photo. A member of the custody staff strikes a few keys on the keyboard, a short video is made of Billy’s face and is then sent remotely to the ID bureau at Police HQ. For Billy’s involvement, this is the ID parade done and dusted.
At the ID bureau the staff access their database and select eleven other similar looking video captures which they put together as part of an ID package. This package is then sent back to the officers so that it can be shown to the witnesses.
As the officers who are investigating the theft are not allowed to be involved in the ID parade (to avoid any suggestion that they could have influenced witnesses), they ask an independent officer to meet the two witnesses at the police station and separately show them the ID film. Having picked out Billy as the same person they saw nicking the sausages, they complete statements saying as much and with these the case against Billy is strengthened and he should be able to be sent to court.
The rules surrounding identification procedures are covered by Code D of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and whilst the above overview is hopefully fairly straightforward, ID can be a fairly complicated area to get your head around. It can also be fun with us occasionally having to dress suspects up in funny hats and scarfs to hide scars and tattoos!
If you’re asked as a witness to take part in an ID parade then it’s certainly not something that should cause any concern. It’s one of the few areas of policing that isn’t really like it is in the movies – no frightening criminals and no one way glass. More likely its a cup of tea, a comfy ID suite with sofas and ten minutes spent strengthening the case against the bad guys.