Chapter 1 - Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science
David A. Harris, FAILIED EVIDENCE: WHY LAW ENFORCEMENT RESISTS SCIENCE, NYU Press, 2012
20 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2013
Date Written: December 1, 2012
News reports about police and science like DNA identification, and popular entertainment like the television program CSI and its many imitators, give the impression that science is now the handmaiden of law enforcement. But this picture is at best misleading. Law enforcement does rely on some scientific techniques, but far more often police and prosecution prefer to ignore or even resist science that bears directly on the basics of police investigation. Years of scientific research on eyewitness testimony, police interrogation, and basic forensic techniques (other than DNA and chemical analysis) tells us how these foundational aspects of investigation go wrong. This science also explains how we can improve these aspects of how evidence is gathered and used. This work has been published, peer reviewed, and duplicated – sometimes for decades. But despite the fact that 300 cases of wrongful convictions have now been exposed using DNA, law enforcement continues to resist changes to these basic techniques that police use every day.
The focus of Failed Evidence is why law enforcement resists, and what can be done to overcome it. The resistance to better, more accurate investigative techniques has its roots in two aspects of human thinking: cognitive barriers (e.g., cognitive dissonance, group polarization, and loss aversion), and institutional and political barriers (e.g., the imperatives of arrest and conviction, the ingrained “us versus them” heart of police culture). These problems keep most police and prosecutors from even considering positive change.
From this understanding of why the resistance to science occurs, Failed Evidence distills six recommendations for making change happen, and gives concrete examples of progress from around the nation.
Keywords: Failed Evidence, eyewitness, eyewitness identification, DNA, DNA identification, interrogation, false confessions, forensics, forensic science, resistance, science, cognitive, cognitive barriers, cognitive dissonance, loss aversion, us versus them, police culture
JEL Classification: K14, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation