If you witness a crime, do you think you'd be able to describe what you saw? Research shows that only one in 10 of us would be able to pick out the crook from a line-up.
11 News conducted an experiment. We sent a man storming into a classroom of unsuspecting criminal justice students at Pikes Peak Community College. Our suspect, who also happens to be a photographer at KKTV, yelled at the professor teaching class. He then ran out.
A minute later, we walked into the classroom with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Robert Jaworski. We told the class they were part of an eyewitness experiment.
"How many people think they could identify that person again?" asked Sgt. Jaworski. A few students raised their hands.
So we put them to the test. We had each of the 22 students had to write down a description of who they just saw and what happened. Then, we passed out what cops call a photo line-up, which is a collection of mug shots of other co-workers from KKTV. We asked our witnesses if they could pick out the right guy.
Two students circled one picture. They were convinced that man was in the classroom just five minutes earlier. He wasn't. The picture was 11 News weekend anchor David Nancarrow. “I'm sorry David. I'm so sorry,” one of the students said, laughing.
The classroom descriptions varied a lot. Some talked about a suspect wearing black jeans. Others remembered blue jeans. One said it was tan shorts. “He had a black jacket, sunglasses, and a tattoo up his neck," said one student who sat in the front row of the classroom.
“Remember, looks can change overnight,” said Sgt. Jaworski. He told the class to focus on distinguishable features, to focus on characteristics that people can't change, like scars or accents.
The one thing all the students could recall was the fake tattoo on our suspect's neck.
But out of the entire class, only one witness was able to point out the right guy. "It was the mouh that gave it away. It was the shape and size of it. When he was in here talking, I was looking at his mouth," said the one student who could picked our suspect out of a line-up.
"It doesn't surprise me. You're going to have 9 out of 10 didn't pick the person," said Jaworski.
"Our memory is not a video tape. It’s not a machine. Our brains are filters. When we see through our eyes and hear through our ears, our brain interprets that information and tells us how to react,” said Jason DeVaux. He’s a former cop and federal prosecutor and is the professor of this criminal justice class.
He said what we see and what we remember are shaped by our past. "The way we're programed as humans determines how we focus on different factors. Some may focus on ethnicity based on how they were raised. Some might focus on how people dress."
So what do the experts say you should focus on? Again, look for distinguishable features. Does the person talk with an accent, walk with a limp or have a noticeable scar? What about spotting a getaway car in a crime, aside from the license plate number? Does it have tinted windows? What about any dents or broken tail lights?
Experts all agree that our observation skills can't improve overnight. You have to practice on your memory.
Cops say they don't rely solely on eyewitness testimony. It's one tool in their toolbox and they look for similarities in witness statements and compare that to evidence.
On 11 News This Morning starting at 6:15 a.m.; we put your skills to the test to see how good of an eyewitness you are. Here are the comments that were e-mailed, Twittered or Facebooked into the newsroom:
the suspect i would say has to be around 5'9 maybe weigh's about 145, the car was a green suv couldn't get the name or the licence plate, the suspect was wearing a hoody i think it was a grey hoody or black the car was like olive green!
dark hoodie was up - jeans - fair skinned - dark straight brows - shorter than gold Jeep (859-PWI) -maybe 5' 6 or 7" - 160 or 170 lbs.
I saw a white male approx. 5'10" wearing dark shoes, faded blue leans and a hooded black sweatshirt with white lettering on the front.
Vehicle was a late model jeep, one of the smaller models. Colorado plates 859-PWI.
I think most people could remember details because you told us what the premise was. If you would have shown the clip and then explained......I probably wouldnt have remembered details.
By the way...you guys are the best! Thanks!!
Andy. Las Animas, Co.
On the suspect on TV this a.m.
He had a black hoodie on and blue jeans, approx 6' tall, white, 185 lbs.
Green Suv License # 689-PWT
here is your description a white male with dark hair around 5'7" and 175 wearing baggie light blue jeans and a black hoodie getting into a light green jeep suv with the license plate reading 858-PWI
I believe it was Suspect # 2
Jeannie, Canon City
The suspect was
Approximately 5'10", 150-160 lbs. May look heavier because he was wearing very baggy blue jeans with back pockes hanging low and large black hoodie sweatshirt with hood up. NO, he was not one of the suspects pictured.
The car was a newer model Jeep, metallic light army green with license plate 859 PWI
The man was between 150 to 160 lbs, 5'9-5'10 in height, scruffy face, approximately 25-35 years of age, the vehicle was a khaki green Jeep, the license plate began with the numbers 886 or 889 the man had on a black hoodie, lighter blue jeans, dirty white sneakers.
WHITE MALE DARK HAIR AND EYES bLACK HOODIE AND JEANS WITH BLACK SHOES ABOUT 510 180-185 GOT INTO A GREEN JEEP WITH STICKERS ONT HE LEFT BOTTOM REAR WINDOW AND TWO IN THE CENTER ONE AT THE TOP AND ONE IN THE MIDDLE. license PLATE WAS COLORADO 859-PNI, HE HAD NO FACIAL HAIR, BUT IF I HAD TO CHOOSE IN THE LINE UP i WOULD SAY SUSPECT 3
Green jeep/suv was apparently stolen by 5'9"-5"10" white male wearing jeans and black hoodie.