Answers From the Street: Recording Interrogations Doesn’t Slow Detectives Down

Posted: October 1, 2012 in False Confessions
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In a recent post here, I recounted the discussion about recording interrogations at the event for Failed Evidence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York on September 20.  One member of the panel, himself a former NYPD officer, asserted that a recording requirement (announced just the day before by NYPD Commissioner  Ray Kelly) would cause detectives to interrogate suspects less or not at all.  I asked in that post whether other current or former detectives agreed or disagreed with that assertion.

I received some answers from law enforcement professionals, and I’ll share some representative comments here.  Here’s a typical one:  “As a Det., my Dept recorded custodial/non-custodial interviews. I do not feel that being recorded ever hampered my interview/interrogations.”  Here’s another from a former detective in for both property and major crimes units: “We have recorded interviews and I do not believe it was ever a hamper. If anything it was a great help. It showed that we the state did nothing wrong and that the interviewee was being evasive. This is like a variation of Miranda. Old school belief was that bad guys would no longer talk to us once they received Miranda….. This of course was not the case.”  A third said that he had been in law enforcement when Miranda became the law, when changes came to search and seizure law, and when departmental rules began to require recording interrogation.  Each time, he said, police said the same thing: crimes would go unsolved, and criminals would run rampant.  But each time, he said, “things remained about the same” – no changes in crimes rates, clearance rates, etc.  But, he said:

What did change were fewer miscarriages of justice involving forced confessions, illegal searches and manufactured evidence, and questionable confessions. Less false arrests and fewer law suits and subsequently less cost to the public. A change that took place was enhanced efforts by the police to develop information gathering skills and forensic science skills to gather more information to build a solid case on more than just a statement by a witness or by a suspect.

This, to me, sums it up.  Law enforcement resists change in basic procedures, predicting the worst.  But when change occurs anyway, fears prove groundless, and the changes are usually helpful.

Officers and detectives: please tell us more.  You’re the ones who can best persuade others in law enforcement.

  1. Frank Marsh says:

    Is there not research that shows when people know they are being recorded quickly revert back to their “normal” behavior despite the recording. I thought I read studies about parents being monitored at bedtime and teen age drivers being videos just to name two… I believe these studies may have relevance for those who believe recording interviews would be a hinderance…

  2. Thomas Rice says:

    I made it a standard practice to turn on the recorder as soon as I sat at the table with the suspect in the interview room. He usually glanced at it a time or two in the first minute, but once I got his attention back on me and started my “spiel”, they seemed to quickly forget that it was on and the interview proceeded normally.

    • Mr. Rice, your experience is perfectly consistent with the data and observations of the studies of the experiences of the police officers and department using recording technology as a regular practice. I’m glad that others in your profession have the opportunity to hear about this from you.

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