The use of Police Identity Parades in the UK Criminal Justice System

Identification of an offender

The identification of an offender is a key aspect of any criminal conviction. This identification may be done by the victim of the crime or a witness if there are any available witnesses and in most cases both.

If an individual can be identified as the offender then this piece of evidence will be one of the first pieces used in a criminal trial with both the victim and any witnesses required to repeat the identification in front of the court.

Police Identity Parades

The traditional method of identifying an offender was to use a police identity parade. During a police identity parade a line of suspects will be required to line up with either the victim or a witness able to view the parade form behind a screen. Often the potential suspects will be required to repeat a sentence which the victim or the witness will have heard. This will enable the victim or the witness to identify the offender both by sight and voice.

Who will make up the police identity parade?

During a police identity parade it will usually be the case that the police are aware of whom the suspect is due to their investigations and the identity parade will be used simply as confirmation that the suspect is in fact the offender. If this is the case then the other members of the identity parade may be police officers or simply people the police have picked off the street.

Can I take part in a police identity parade?

Many police stations still using the traditional method of a police identity parade will employ members of the public to take part in an identity parade for a small payment. Often the police will have a list of people that they use and will look to this list when choosing people to take part in the parade.

Are there any potential issues with taking part in an identity parade?

One of the biggest issues faced by a member of the general public when taking part in a police identity parade is that you will be in the presence of a real criminal and depending on the crime you may fear for your safety. However, your safety should be assured due to the potential presence of police officers in the line-up and the officers who are coordinating the line-up.

If I take part in a police line-up will this benefit my local police station?

Without volunteers taking part in a police identity parade it is often difficult for the police to complete the line-up causing them to waste valuable police time in looking for potential participants or having to participate in it themselves.

What are the potential problems when using a traditional police identity parade?

Other than the problems of wasting police time in looking for suitable participants the following are key problems when using an identity parade:

  • Emotional issues for victims and witnesses

  • Potential for police interference

Emotional Issues for Victims and Witnesses

Often when the crime involved has been a violent or a sexual crime it is extremely difficult for a victim to again be face to face with their attacker. This can also be the case for witnesses to very serious crime. Having to re-live the event can often be a very traumatic experience.

Furthermore the sterile atmosphere of the police station will not always be something which a victim is used to which will often affect them in an emotional capacity.

Potential for Police Interference

When the victim or witness is placed with an option of potential offenders in front of them it may be much easier for the police officers to influence their decision towards a certain individual.

Are traditional police identity parades still used throughout the UK?

In some police stations the traditional identity parade is still used, however, in many up and down England and Wales they are using a system of virtual identity parades.

What is a virtual identity parade?

A virtual identity parade or VIPER is a system which was first introduced in Scotland and has now been established in certain areas of England and Wales.

VIPER is a computer system which uses a national database of images of volunteers to compile a vide line-up rather than having the need to use traditional people in a live police line-up.

What are the benefits of using a virtual identity parade?

A virtual identity parade can be used whenever and wherever especially if it is presented on a laptop computer.

This will therefore enable both victims and witnesses to look at the line-up from the comfort of their own home which is an environment which is comfortable to them and will not carry the same emotional stress of visiting a police station.  The fact the images are viewed on screen will also reduce the emotional stress of being face to face in person with an individual who may have committed a violent crime towards you.

Furthermore as the database has already been compiled this will greatly reduce the time spent by the police officers in compiling the live line-up.

The VIPER system during its initial use in Scotland also proved to be successful with children and young people who not only could view the images in relative comfort but they were used to the technology and were responsive to it.