Can't ID Problem

Does an initial “Can’t ID” mean never?

By: Joseph Giacalone

When someone at the crime scene says that they, “Can’t ID,” does that mean they never will? The investigator has many jobs, but one that is often overlooked is that of trainer. Sometimes at the beginning of the preliminary investigation by patrol officers, they make a simple mistake that can be costly not only to the case, but for the investigator in court. We have all been assigned a complaint report for a violent street crime, such as a robbery, with the statement or “Check Off” box: Victim Can’t ID.

This statement or box is a bigger problem than you can imagine because it opens the investigator to all sorts of allegations of misconduct and manipulation. We all know that Eyewitness Identification is under attack by many, so why give them more ammunition? In many jurisdictions, like New York City, a single eyewitness ID case will not even be prosecuted (See People v. Legrand (2007)). Investigators cannot afford to rely solely on eyewitness identification.

I have experienced this first hand trying to answer the question, “Detective, how did you go from “Can’t ID” to obtaining a positive hit in a photo array?” What did you do? Did you tell them to pick out my client? Did you manipulate the lineup (photo array)?” and that’s only the beginning. How do you even answer a question like that? Eventually, there will be other alleged accusatorial misconduct by the investigator. The defense will have a field day. If the defense attorney cannot attack the case, evidence, eyewitness ID or forensics, they will attack you. Attacking you, is often the best course of action.

That little check off box or statement, “Can’t ID,” on the initial patrol report can make or break the case. The investigator should make an appearance at roll call every now and then to request patrol’s help. Cops count in helping us solve crimes and investigators must do a better job of bringing patrol into the investigative team. A training message at roll call can go a long way. Patrol is just not there to secure the scene and act as gatekeepers. Patrol officers are our partners in solving crime.

Police administrators need to address this issue, because it ultimately effects them with crime clearance rates. Maybe a better statement, or check off box, to the question would be, “Not at this time.” At least this keeps the door open for detectives to see if the person can remember.