The New York Police Department has reversed itself: Commissioner Ray Kelly has announced that his Department will begin to record interrogations in all murder and sex offense cases in all of its precinct stations.
In a Sept. 2 op-ed piece in the New York Daily News, I argued that a small pilot program in which the NYPD recorded interrogations in felony assault cases in just two precincts should include serious crimes in the entire department, instead of just the small expansion to a few more precincts that the Department announced in August. And there were reasons to expand the program that went beyond the protection of suspects from abuse. Those resisting recording, I said, were ignoring the many benefits that police get when they record interrogations, including stronger evidence, fewer spurious motions to suppress, more guilty pleas, and protection against bogus charges of wrongdoing by detectives.
Yesterday, in a speech before the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Commissioner Kelly announced that the program would soon cover the entire department in murder and sex offense cases. According to press reports, Kelly said that recording will have advantages for all involved — including the police. “Recording can aid not only the innocent, the defense and the prosecution but also enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system by increasing transparency as to what was said and done when the suspect agreed to speak with the police.”
It’s worth noting that this won’t happen overnight. Commissioner Kelly said that the Department was attempting to secure a $3 million grant from the Police Foundation to put the program in place, rather moving immediately using the Department’s own funds. To some, the slow pace of change rankles. For example, Steven Banks, the chief attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York, told the Wall Street Journal that while the announcement shows a willingness to move in the right direction, he had concerns that “there isn’t a concrete timetable to finally put in place an initiative that could have a significant impact on wrongful convictions.”
Nevertheless, it is a significant reversal and represents real progress at one of the country’s leading police departments. Dare we hope that this will mean that the NYPD will lead more of law enforcement in this direction in the coming years?