Yesterday the NYPD announced that they would launch a pilot program videotaping police interrogations of criminal suspects in two precincts this year. This reform is long overdue: as DMI found in our 2009 report, "No More Delay: Proven Policy Solutions for New York City," videotaping police interrogations has been successful in hundreds of cities across America, both protecting suspects and helping police officers and prosecutors to perform their jobs more effectively. It's about time we implemented it in New York.
A videotape of the criminal interrogation has obvious benefits for suspects, both discouraging police brutality and safeguarding against false confessions and wrongful convictions. Drawing on a body of research by The Innocence Project and other experts, DMI's Urban Policy Analyst John Petro also detailed larger benefits for the criminal justice system:
• A permanent record is created that shows what was said and done, how the suspects acted, and how officers acted.
• Officers are less vulnerable to allegations of abusive conduct.
• Voluntary admissions and confessions are indisputable.
• Officers do not need to make detailed notes and are therefore able to concentrate on the suspect's demeanor and statements.
• Officers are no longer required to recall details of what was said and done days or weeks later.
• Public confidence in police practices may increase because of added transparency.
• Taped confessions strengthen their case, providing irrefutable evidence in the courtroom with the defendant's own words.
• They eliminate the problem of suspects changing their stories once in court.
• They allow the jury to see how the suspect looked before being "cleaned up" for court.
• Recordings dramatically reduce the number of defense motions to suppress statements and confessions.
Despite these benefits, it's not a surprise that the police detectives union continues to oppose the policy: in nearly all of the 500 American cities and counties where videotaping interrogations has been implemented, law enforcement officials were initially opposed. However, once police officers have time to get used to the practice, the overwhelming majority of them support videotaping interrogations, according to a report by the Northwestern University School of Law. [pdf] After speaking with hundreds of police jurisdictions, the researchers found that "virtually every officer with whom we spoke, having given custodial recordings a try, was enthusiastically in favor of the practice."
Speaking at the Drum Major Institute's forum on preventing wrongful criminal convictions, the Innocence Project's Barry Scheck pointed out that that videotaping police interrogations is a clear cut best practice "that we know will reduce the number of incorrect identifications without reducing correct ones... It is a very simple reform, but hard to get politically." The pilot project suggests that those political obstacles may finally be giving way.
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