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Digital lineups violate rights of the innocent

Re: All drivers may appear in digital lineups, Dec. 22.

Denis deVlaming is to be commended for his principled stand against using digitized driver's license pictures to be examined by a computer to produce a criminal suspect. If implemented, this plan will mean innocent people will have to defend themselves against mistaken identity, and some of those will be wrongfully convicted.

Sheriff Everett Rice is wrong to compare this program to DNA evidence and automated fingerprint matching. As I understand, there have never been two different people with the same fingerprints, and DNA can be expressed as to how likely the probability is that it matches a particular person. Also it can definitely exclude someone. But eyewitness identification is notoriously inaccurate. Just because they drive, people will be drawn into lineups where they can be wrongly identified as a criminal. Then full and awesome power of the state will be used to try to convict them.

Sure, it will boost the sheriff's investigative capabilities. So would kicking down doors and invading people's homes uncover crime that is not now being detected, but do we want to live like that? I sure don't.

This is a terrible idea, and it should not be used here or anywhere else. We should remember Benjamin Franklin's words: "They who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

J. B. Pruitt Jr., Clearwater

Use digital lineups with care

Re: All drivers may appear in digital lineups,

Dec. 22.

The sheriff's plan to use digital lineups to identify suspects is not only a potential infringement on privacy, it is a procedure guaranteed to produce false-positive identifications among eyewitnesses, especially when the victim and suspect are of different races.

The phenomenon of false-positive memories is now well researched. In fact, I recently produced a batch of false positives among college students in my course on perception. The reason for false-positive memories is the fallibility of memory and the ease of confusing similar images with original images. In the case of a crime, the brief experience produces a memory that is not complete. When a similar-looking but innocent suspect is presented, the incomplete memory can match enough of the suspect to trigger recognition. (The match is similar in experience to meeting a new person who looks "just like" an old acquaintance, except that the viewer does not know a mistake is being made.)

Furthermore, the memory of the criminal becomes integrated with the image of the innocent suspect as the victim is viewing the suspect. The reality of false-positive memories is now well documented thanks to DNA evidence that has freed wrongly identified suspects. In my courses, I produce false positives by showing a few similar facial images and then presenting the "innocent" suspect; a good percentage of smart college students think they recognize the new image as one of the old ones.

The use of digital lineups can exacerbate such errors because the procedure generates similar-looking innocent suspects. This problem will be especially bad when the race of the victim and criminal differ, because research indicates that "other-race" is often encoded as part of facial memory. Thus, digitally generated innocent suspects that match the criminal's race will have one more feature (race) that can help trigger false-positive memories.

Accordingly, digital technology should be used with great care. The recall and identification of information by eyewitnesses is an intensively psychological process and using relevant knowledge will increase justice.

Thomas Sanocki, Ph.D., Professor & Program Director,

Cognitive & Neural Sciences, Department of Psychology,

University of South Florida, Tampa

Profiling successes

Re: Stop racial profiling, editorial, Dec. 23.

The old saying "There's lies, damned lies, and then there's statistics" couldn't hold truer. The spin you put on the New Jersey State Police data would make Hermann Goebbels proud.

The facts are indeed true. "Over the past decade, at least 80 percent of search stops have beenminorities," and "70 percent of the time, those searches turned up nothing." Racist? On the surface, apparently, but let's look at the data in a different light: success.

Thirty percent of the stops resulted in arrests for contraband. Another part of the same state police report (which you conveniently omitted to make your biased point) also shows that 30 percent of stopped whites were also arrested. The same percentage of all stops then, independent of race, resulted in the discovery of criminal activity. Not a bad record.

With criminals being taken out of circulation at that rate, the police effort should be applauded, considered as eminently fair and not condemned, as you have. Words like yours only serve to promote hostility by minorities. All citizens should share the same interests in reducing crime if done even-handedly even if, regrettably, some are more inconvenienced at times than others.

Richard T. Bulova, Oldsmar

Go after logical target

After reading your editorial about racial profiling, I feel compelled to address it. First, I would ask you to answer honestly: Does the Times use racial profiling in the news or advertisements?

Second, let's suppose that you are a police department charged with protecting the public, and one particular task is to attack the drug problem. How would you go about it? Do you suppose the dart board approach would be effective? Just throw a dart without aiming and hope you hit the target? I submit that you had better take careful aim unless you have unlimited darts at your disposal. Are there more minorities in prison because they are targeted, or is it because they actually commit more crimes percentage-wise than whites? Now that is, to me, an interesting subject. With your vast resources, you should be able to answer that question, hopefully objectively.

Third, I do not adhere to what I have personally witnessed by some police in treating all blacks as if they are guilty by color. By and large, I truly believe that most black people are good, decent people. If Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would spend more of their time in truly helping to build up the black community rather than pitting it against the invisible enemy called "whites," the world would become a better place.

If profiling means to go after the logical targets, so be it, regardless the target.

Frank B. Hill, Homosassa

Glaring abuse against minorities

I read the article you refer to in your Nov. 23 editorial, Stop racial profiling but, sadly, you will never know to what extent these practices are perpetrated on minorities unless you try walking in our shoes. The same government agencies that maintain steadfastly that such practices do not exist are ones that institute and condone such behavior by their employees, and when caught in a lie, they deny, deny, deny.

I am a retired engineer, and now that I can afford to travel to those "faraway places with strange-sounding names," I have become a favorite target of U.S. Customs, coming or going, to such extent that I no longer like to travel overseas, and when I do, I bring back trifles, maybe a bunch of postcards or a T-shirt. Complaints to my congressman or my state senators have resulted in a few letters of apology which are good only until my next trip. When out of a planeload of tourists, one or two dark-skinned passengers are selected by U.S. Customs for thorough searches only because of the color of our skin or our appearance, you know you have been profiled. When one protests being picked on, they dismiss one's protest as that of a too-sensitive individual: Oh, no, sir, we are not racists. Yeah, sure.

I think the root cause of these abuses resides primarily with a government that says one thing and does another _ the forked-tongue syndrome.

Thank you for casting a light on this glaring abuse against minorities and for commiserating with us. It is only when the government cannot stand the pain of public scrutiny that something may be done to redress this wrong.

Humberto A. Calderon, Tampa

Health versus wealth

Re: White House gets tough on bus, truck emissions, Dec. 21.

Now let me see if I understand this correctly: The White House (President Clinton, a Democrat) approved measures that would greatly improve the quality of air that we humans breathe. And this measure has caused some (Republicans and oil companies) to be concerned over the impact that this would have on our economy.

I'm confused. Does that means that some people feel that wealth or inconvenience is more important than health? I guess these people have not experienced friends or loved ones who have suffered to their death from pollution-related lung diseases. Or maybe they're just too hard-lined to care.

Bob Singer, Dunedin

Condition warrants consideration

Re: She shouldn't leave, but she's not allowed to stay, Dec. 14.

The story about the Moskou family being forced to leave the country with the mother being very sick after a recent operation does not make any sense.

I live in their building and met them when the paramedics came to assist Mrs. Moskou when she became ill. My wife asked to see if she could help. Only then did we get a chance to get to know these nice people, who came only to visit their daughter going to college when Mrs. Moskou became ill and required surgery.

I think it is a shame that the INS will not extend the time these people are allowed to stay in this country. With Mr. Moskou already deported it has become a hardship for Mrs. Moskou and her daughter because neither drive. This woman is facing a life-threatening trip if she is forced to fly back home, and her condition should warrant consideration.

James Jones, St. Petersburg

We must protect the innocent

Re: DNA clears inmate too late, Dec. 15.

I think many people would agree that something is truly wrong with our legal system. We boast of being the best country in the world; however, we are allowing innocent people to sit in prisons cells 10 to 20 years, and allowing them to be put to death or die of natural causes. And then we say, "My God, he was innocent."

Whether or not I agree with capital punishment, I think if there's even the slightest chance of innocence, we must do more to protect these people. If only one innocent person is put to death, it's one person too many. Just the loss of one innocent life should force us to re-examine our justice system and our methods of punishment.

Erica Allen, St. Petersburg

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