News from BSO

NATIONAL EXPERT INSTRUCTS BSO DETECTIVES ON HANDLING MENTALLY CHALLENGED SUSPECTS

Broward Sheriff's Office detectives are receiving training from a national expert who specializes in police interrogations and how those interrogations sometimes lead to false confessions when dealing with the mentally impaired. Dr. Richard A. Leo is an associate professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California in Irvine.

Dr. Leo and others in his field concur that some mentally challenged people are eager to please and will tell those in authority what they want to hear even if it’s false information. That’s believed to be what happened in the case of Jerry Frank Townsend, who confessed to several murders that occurred in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in the 1970’s. Townsend was released from prison last June after DNA testing exonerated him.

That case prompted, Sheriff Ken Jenne to develop a program to train detectives on how to evaluate the validity of confessions. Sheriff Jenne said, “The goal is clear - to eliminate any chance of incarcerating a person for a crime he or she didn’t commit.” A portion of Dr. Leo’s training will focus how to avoid eliciting false admissions from those with mental deficiencies. Joining Dr. Leo is Dr. Vincent Van Hasselt, a Professor of Psychology at Nova Southeastern University.

In addition to this mandatory specialized training conducted over three days (July 23-25) for more than 180 BSO detectives, there’s also a new policy and procedure to guide them when dealing with a mentally challenged suspect. The new policy entitled, “Interrogation of Suspects with Developmental Disabilities”, was drafted with the assistance of Dr. Leo and issued to BSO personnel on November 17, 2001.

MEDIA NOTE: MEDIA ARE INVITED TO ATTEND THE FALSE CONFESSIONS PORTION OF THE TRAINING AT APPROXIMATELY 2 P.M. ON THURSDAY, JULY 25TH. ANYONE WISHING TO ATTEND MUST R.S.V.P. WITH PIO COLEMAN-WRIGHT AT (954) 831-8300 NO LATER THAN 10 A.M. THURSDAY (JULY 25TH) SO THAT ACCOMMODATIONS CAN BE MADE.

This report by:

Veda Coleman-Wright/PIO

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