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An analysis of police officers decisions about whether to refer cases of child abuse for prosecution
journal contributionposted on 01.10.2010, 00:00 authored by Martine Powell, R Murfett, Don ThomsonDon Thomson
In many jurisdictions, police officers are responsible for deciding whether cases of child abuse are referred for potential prosecution. Such discretion justifies the need to scrutinise these professionals' decisions to determine if they are consistent with the scientific eyewitness memory literature. Prior research has shown that interviewer questioning is one of the most critical factors impacting the reliability of child witness statements. Hence, we asked: 'To what degree do officers' consider the quality of interviewer questions when making case authorisation decisions?'. In order to answer this question, we conducted a thematic analysis to identify issues referred to in a sample of documented police correspondence (n=33) about potential prosecution of child abuse cases. Two key themes emerged: the existence of corroborative evidence and whether the suspect denied the allegations. Questioning technique, however, was not considered. All but one decision that referred to interview process focused on the presentation of the witness, even though the witness interviews (as a whole) did not adhere to recommended best-practice guidelines. The implications of these findings are discussed.