Police Are Convicting People for Murder Based on “Guilty Sounding” 911 Calls – Rights History
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Police Are Convicting People for Murder Based on “Guilty Sounding” 911 Calls

Prosecutors are imprisoning people using their 911 emergency calls as evidence thanks to junk science that claims to detect murderers through their speech patterns.

Even scarier: Prosecutors continue to rely on this method even though there’s no scientific evidence backing it up, ProPublica reports.

This method has been pushed by Tracy Harpster, a deputy police chief from suburban Dayton, Ohio who has “no scientific background and next to no previous homicide investigation experience,” the publication wrote.

Harpster claims his training can teach 911 phone operators, investigators, and prosecutors how to detect if the caller is a murderer. His methods have been used in court cases to wrongly convict innocent people.

“I documented more than 100 cases in 26 states where Harpster’s methods played a pivotal role in arrests, prosecutions and convictions — likely a fraction of the actual figure,” investigative reporter Brett Murphy wrote. Some of these convictions have been overturned.

Harpster based his method on research he did for his graduate thesis in criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. He analyzed 100 recordings of 911 calls, half of which were made by callers who were later found guilty of a crime, and listened for speech patterns that he thought indicated guilt.

Guilt, Harpster says, can be induced by people repeating “extraneous information,” being too polite, interrupting one’s self, or being confusing.

“Almost two-thirds of the calls came from Ohio and two-thirds of the callers were white,” the reporter noted. “Experts told me that’s nowhere near enough data to draw conclusions from because that sample fails to account for who a 911 caller is and how that might affect the way they speak: their race, upbringing, geography, dialect, education.”

The FBI promoted his research to police departments around the nation without labeling it as “exploratory,” meaning that it needed further inquiry.

Harpster and the FBI continued to push his method for 12 years until a 2020 study from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit finally found that his methods resulted in “inconsistent” outcomes. The unit recommended against using his methods. A fall 2022 study by a separate group in the same FBI unit and three other studies from Villanova and James Madison universities have all found his methods to be unreliable, Murphy reported.

Nonetheless, his methods have been used to wrongly convict numerous people of murder, even when the victims died accidentally or through suicide. Some of these non-murderers have had their convictions overturned, but some become suicidal and experience PTSD after having their lives ruined.

Harpster offers his training to investigators and prosecutors who now push his methods in trials. Investigators, prosecutors, judges, and jury members increasingly consider his methods as “expert testimony” and meeting “law enforcement standards,”  despite having no basis in peer-reviewed scientific research. Public defenders who may have never heard of Harpster’s technique can be caught unaware and find themselves unable to disprove its official-sounding methods, especially when police officers testify about its usefulness in getting convictions.

“[Harpster] claims that 1 in 3 people who call 911 to report a death are actually murderers,” Murphy wrote. “No law enforcement officials in the records I’ve seen have questioned this figure, and many departments repeat it when promoting the training internally.”

Harpster’s Facebook page expresses openly “misogynistic, transphobic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views” including posts flagged as false information and another post calling peaceful protesters “filthy scum,” Murphy reported.

The post Police Are Convicting People for Murder Based on “Guilty Sounding” 911 Calls appeared first on The New Civil Rights Movement.

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