Posts Tagged ‘Ray Kelly’

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “Police Tool Targets Guns” says that the NYPD has taken delivery of a “T-Ray” scanner: a device that can detect weapons concealed under heavy clothing.  The device “detects terahertz radiation, a high-frequency electromagnetic natural energy that is emitted by people and can penetrate many materials, including clothing.”  The scanner “sees” the shape and size of the weapon against the body of the person carrying it, because the material of which any gun is made does not emit terahertz radiation like the human body.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said the police were very “hopeful” about the potential of the device.  While the current version of the tool is “about the size of an old-style projection television,” the NYPD would like to see the technology reduced in size so that it is “small enough to carry on an officer’s gun belt.”  Privacy advocates raised some concerns, but also expressed hope that the device could make the NYPD’s controversial stop and frisk program unnecessary — or at least less intrusive.

All very interesting — but to me, this isn’t new.  In 1996, I published an article called “Superman’s X-Ray Vision and the Fourth Amendment: The New Gun Detection Technology” in the Temple Law Review.  (The official citation is 69 Temple L. Rev. 1.)  The article highlighted a nascent technology: a device that could scan people for millimeter wave radiation, emitted by all human bodies.  The device used the radiation to produce images of weapons hidden under heavy clothing.  The article explained the technology, described how police could use it , and explored the ways that the device would fit into the Fourth Amendment and other aspects of the law.   Here’s a small slice:

[R]esearch and development efforts have begun that would give police officers something very much like Superman’s x-ray vision. Two private companies and one government laboratory, each with its own design, have started work on technology that will allow police officers to “see” through clothing to detect whether a person is carrying a concealed weapon. The idea is to produce a commercially and technologically viable device that could do an “electronic frisk” of a suspect from a distance of ten or twenty feet.

So, here we are — back to the future.  The millimeter radiation technology never achieved what researchers hoped for in terms of portability — they could never make it  small enough to be handheld — or in terms of use at a a distance.  Perhaps the terahertz technology will do better in both respects.  Assuming it does, the terahertz devices will face many of the same Fourth Amendment, legal, and privacy issues  that I pointed out almost twenty years ago.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what some of those issues are.


At the roll out event for Failed Evidence at John Jay College in New York on Thursday, Sept. 20, I spoke about the book, and a star-studded faculty panel, moderated by former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, gave the audience astute and insightful comments.  The event took place just after NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced an expansion of the Department’s very small pilot program of recording interrogations, so police will record all interrogations in cases of murder or sexual offenses, in every precinct.  This change in NYPD policy came up in my presentation, and in the panel’s comments.  I favor recording of interrogations and said so, but panel member Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer who now teaches at John Jay, voiced reservations. ( The recording of the event  is not yet available, so I am working from memory;  if I get this wrong, I hope that Professor O’Donnell or someone else who was there will correct me.)  Professor O’Donnell’s main concern with recording seemed to be that detectives performing interrogations would curtail their questioning, or even not attempt much questioning, if they knew they were being recorded.  I heard this same concern raised the next day, in an email I got from another attendee.  This gentleman, who like Professor O’Donnell is also a former NYPD officer, said that he had raised the issue of recording interrogations with a friend who is an active NYPD detective, and that the friend said the same thing Professor O’Donnell had:  that he would do fewer interviews if he was going to be recorded.

I disagree; the experience of police departments that have recorded for years (beginning with Alaska in 1985 and Minnesota in 1984) doesn’t support this fear.  “The Case for Recording Police Interrogations,”  published in 2008 by Thomas P. Sullivan and colleagues, carefully works through all of the objections police have raised to recording.  According to Sullivan, none of them hold water, but more interestingly, the idea that detectives faced with a recording requirement will somehow hold back or stop interrogating suspects does not even come up when talking to police who record.  On the contrary, the article contains a long list of the benefits that police get from recording interrogations: a complete record; protection against bogus charges of misconduct or illegalities like failure to administer Miranda warnings; fewer motions to suppress and more guilty pleas, to name just a few.  I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of police officers and detectives, and it is my strong impression that a recording requirement will not deter them from doing their jobs.

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?