Tuesday, December 10, 2019

SCAN a dubious police investigation 'tool' in use around the country

A dubious police investigation “tool” well known to many police departments but little known to the public is called Scientific Content Analysis, or SCAN for short.
SCAN, a product sold by a company called the Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation (LSI), has, in the words of four scholars in a 2016 study, “no empirical support” — meaning, there’s no dependable research showing that it works, reported ProPublica and the South Bend Tribune.
Scientific Content Analysis is akin to other investigative tools scrutinized by ProPublica, including bloodstain-pattern analysis and photo analysis. These analytical techniques promise a degree of certainty — about how blood came to spray across a wall, or whether a particular plaid shirt was worn by a robber — that can guide an investigator or shore up a case. The trial evidence presented against Joyner included yet another example: a prosecution expert testified that two plastic garbage bags — one found in Joyner’s apartment, the other around Hernandez’s head — had “definitely” once been connected. (A statistician said in an interview that this testimony was laced with “a lot of unproven assertions.”) Law enforcement officials hold these tools out as science, even though they have little or no scientific backing.
SCAN’s creator has written, “I am pleased to say SCAN has helped solve thousands of cases over the years.”
While police in Elkhart and elsewhere have used the tool to make critical decisions that can establish an investigation’s direction, SCAN has escaped the scrutiny that comes with being offered in court as proof. Appellate opinions often refer to key pieces of evidence used at trial, but a search of legal databases with opinions from around the country turns up precious few mentions of SCAN.
The detective who used SCAN in the Joyner case was Steve Rezutko. He resigned from the Elkhart police in 2001 after an internal investigation found he had engaged in sexual misconduct with an informant. He died, in an apparent suicide, this year.
In 1994, two years after Hernandez’s death, Rezutko was asked in a deposition to describe his training in SCAN.
“Not great,” Rezutko said. “Been to two schools. At the time, I hadn’t done an awful lot, maybe 40 or 50 interpretations, but I had been to a weeklong school in Indianapolis under the guy who … developed the procedure.”
Joyner’s lawyer asked whether a person’s ability to read and comprehend the English language could affect the results of the questionnaire.
“Well ... you struggle with the same questions I struggled with when I went through the school, went through the sessions,” Rezutko said. “I guess it’s kind of like two and two is four. Why is it four? It’s two and two is four all over the world. Why it is I have no idea.”
Rezutko, like officers across the country, took it on faith that SCAN works, without really understanding how or why.
Local, state and federal agencies from the Louisville Metro Police Department to the Michigan State Police to the U.S. State Department have paid for SCAN training. The LSI website lists 417 agencies nationwide, from small-town police departments to the military, that have been trained in SCAN — and that list isn’t comprehensive, because additional ones show up in procurement databases and in public records obtained by ProPublica. Other training recipients include law enforcement agencies in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom, among others.
The tool’s lack of scientific grounding aside, criminal investigators have been quick to seize upon sales pitches for training, exemplified by a company commander with the famed Texas Rangers, who, in an email to his fellow majors, wrote that SCAN’s creator is “a true master at detecting deception.”
For Avinoam Sapir, the creator of SCAN, sifting truth from deception is as simple as one, two, three.
1. Give the subject a pen and paper.
2. Ask the subject to write down his/her version of what happened.
3. Analyze the statement and solve the case.
Those steps appear on the website for Sapir’s company, based in Phoenix. “SCAN Unlocks the Mystery!” the homepage says, alongside a logo of a question mark stamped on someone’s brain. The site includes dozens of testimonials with no names attached. “Since January when I first attended your course, everybody I meet just walks up to me and confesses!” one says. Acronyms abound (VIEW: Verbal Inquiry - the Effective Witness; REASON: REport Automated SOlution Notes), as do products for sale. “Coming Soon! SCAN Analysis of the Mueller Report,” the website teased this year. LSI offers guidebooks, software, kits, discount packages, cassette tapes of seminars and, for computer wallpaper, a picture of a KGB interrogation room.
SCAN saves time, the site says. It saves money. Police can fax a questionnaire to a hundred people at once, the site says. Those hundred people can fax it back “and then, in less than an hour, the investigator will be able to review the questionnaires and solve the case.” “Past students … have reported a dramatic increase in the amount of information obtained from people,” the site says. “Thus, costly and time-consuming outside investigation was reduced to a minimum.”
SCAN works, the site says. “Analysis of statements has been found to be highly accurate and supported by a validation survey conducted in a U.S. governmental agency. In that survey, when SCAN was compared to other methods, the validity of SCAN reached above 95%,” the site says, without identifying the agency or citing or linking to any survey.
Sapir has outlined his background on LinkedIn and in books he’s written, including one in which he uses SCAN to analyze the biblical book of Genesis. He was born in 1949 in Israel. He got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminology at Bar-Ilan University and a master’s in criminology at Tel Aviv University. His master’s thesis was on “Interrogation in Jewish Law.” He served in Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200 (a high-tech spy agency akin to America’s NSA). He became a polygraph examiner with the Israel police. In the mid-1980s, he moved to the United States, where he began teaching SCAN to investigators “on six continents.”
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