NEW ORLEANS – In the criminal justice system, it takes accuracy at numerous levels of work to ensure that a proper conviction is achieved in criminal cases. This includes witnesses and law enforcement.
This week, many NOPD officers took part in a first-of-its-kind class at the NOPD Training Academy presented by Innocence Project New Orleans, highlighting the role of police in guaranteeing accurate convictions.
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Sgt. David Barnes of the NOPD’s Force Investigation Unit, who headed the class, discussed how wrongful convictions not only affect those who are convicted for a crime they did not commit, but the effects of such a decision on larger scale.
“What can a wrongful conviction mean? A loss of credibility not only for you, but for the department, which can contribute to loss of public trust,” Barnes told the officers. “Plus, a wrongful conviction means the real perpetrator is still out there. That doesn’t bring justice to the victim, their family, the person wrongfully convicted or those actually responsible.”
During the class, IPNO Director Emily Maw and Staff Attorney Kia Hays used interactive exercises to highlight the most common causes of wrongful convictions. She also explained different psychological variables that come into play during an investigation and also dissected case study showing how a wrongful conviction can affect all involved.
“It is not deliberate conduct that leads to most wrongful convictions,” Maw said. “It’s often things like unreliable information from victims or witnesses or even overburden on detectives, which can lead to unconsciously cutting corners.”
Barnes said that while officers are made aware of the importance of each step in the investigatory process, a class such as this serves as a reminder of the challenges law enforcement faces in ensuring their cases have strong and reliable evidence.
NOPD Deputy Chief John Thomas said the class serves as a pilot for possible future classes that can help the NOPD better understand the perspectives of groups of citizens they may encounter.
“We’re working to better lines of communication with sections of the population that may not have the best relationships with police,” he said. “This gives them a chance to come to us and present their situation. At the same time, our officers can learn more about these people’s missions and how to better work together.”