Effectiveness and accuracy of FBI profilers questioned after exoneration

July 2017

Earlier this year after 11 years behind bars, Raymond Lee Jennings, who was convicted of killing an 18-year-old woman in a Palmdale parking lot, was declared innocent.

It took three trials to get that guilty verdict -- the first two trials ended in deadlock -- and the case was based largely on circumstantial evidence. In particular, the prosecution relied on testimony of an FBI profiler. Profilers help detectives predict the likely characteristics of a criminal, but experts are split on how effective profiling actually is -- and whether it's anything more than glorified guesswork.

Profilers can help narrow the list of suspects in an investigation, said Simon Cole, professor of criminology, law and society and director of the National Registry of Exonerations. But there's risk if the profiler is wrong. And in Jennings' case, prosecutors had used expert testimony to bolster investigators' theory about the crime, Cole said.

"I was a little appalled," Cole, who reviewed the testimony, told the LA Times. "It was police work in the guise of an expert witness."

Read the story.

From prisoner to editor: how gaining skills in prison can help post-release

July 2017

For 18 years, Troy Williams was locked up in San Quentin State Prison, doing time for attempted robbery. Now, he's the new editor of a newspaper that seeks to tell the stories of San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood -- along with the stories of incarcerated people across the country. More than 3,000 incarcerated people subscribe to the newspaper.

2017 Social Ecology Dean's Inclusive Excellence Awards

July 2017

The committee for the awarding of the Social Ecology Dean's Inclusive Excellence Award for Research --  members: Associate Dean Wendy Goldberg (PSB),  John Dombrink, Equity Advisor (CLS) , and DECADE Faculty mentors Martha Feldman (PPD), Sora Han (CLS) and Azim Shariff (PSB) --  met at the end of Spring quarter, and made our selections for the awards.  The purpose of the awards is to recognize excellence in research that showcases diversity and inclusion.

The perils of false memories in political investigations

June 2017

Politicians and officials under investigations like the one probing the Trump campaign's Russia ties often say they cannot recall certain events. Investigators and prosecutors don't look kindly on such statements.

But high-profile public figures do sometimes develop incorrect memories, such as Brian Williams' on-air exaggerations, and Hillary Clinton's story of coming under sniper fire in Bosnia.

"Educated, successful people in society can have pretty huge false memories," Elizabeth Loftus, distinguished professor of psychology and social behavior, told Politico.

PhD student researches how to alter public perceptions of police

June 2017

Simple changes in police officers’ attire and equipment can have profound effects on whether others perceive them to be aggressive, approachable, friendly, respectful, and accountable. Rylan Simpson, a doctoral student in criminology, law and society, recently demonstrated such changes in perception during a panel discussion at the University of Redlands, an event that was featured in the San Bernardino Sun.

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