NYPD launches plan to interview suspects on film
Advocates say it will reduce allegations that detectives use coercion
NEW YORK — The New York Police Department wants to begin filming the real-life version of a staple of TV's law-and-order dramas: Detectives grilling suspects.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told The Associated Press that the nation's largest police force will launch a pilot project to videotape interrogations in two of the department's 76 precincts within six months.
Advocates of the practice, including the American Bar Association, say it will reduce allegations that detectives use coercion to break a suspect. They also claim it will help detect false confessions.
But the NYPD plan could meet with resistance from the Detective Endowment Association, which represents about 5,500 detectives on the nation's largest police force. DEA President Michael Palladino said the videotapes could teach criminals' the NYPD's time-tested interrogation techniques.
"I think in a department this size, the cons outweigh the pros," Palladino said.
For years, state prosecutors in the city have videotaped confessions at police precincts and used them at trial. The NYPD had claimed that taping the questioning that sometimes results in those confessions was too costly and cumbersome in a department that averages 400,000 arrests a year.
But Kelly said the department recently determined digital technology has made the taping and storing of video efficient enough that it could afford a pilot program. The department does not yet have a cost estimate for the program.
"It's been a practice in other jurisdictions," Kelly said. "We thought it would be appropriate to test it here."
The program has since won the backing of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and other city law enforcement officials.
Hynes predicted the taping would hinder attempts by suspects and their attorneys to portray police as abusive or dishonest.
"If it works, it will cut off that avenue of examination," he said.
Another pilot program launched last year by the New York Bar Association funneled grants for video equipment to four New York counties after a study found that false confessions had contributed to wrongful convictions.
A task force of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and scholars said confessions are widely seen as clear proof of guilt. Jurors, the groups said, often believe that an innocent people would never confess to crimes they didn't commit.
The group urged mandatory electronic recording of entire felony interrogations to help determine whether confessions — especially by juveniles and the mentally ill — are reliable.
Some states and the District of Columbia require audio or video recordings by statute or court rulings. New York doesn't, but many of the state's 62 counties voluntarily record some interrogations.
According to a 2006 American Bar Association analysis, studies show the method has helped both prosecutors and police, who in some instances have used the tapes to extract confessions from accomplices.
"If the purpose of a trial is the determination of the truth, there can be no legitimate objection to a jury or the public learning the complete, relevant facts," the analysis said. "Clearly, the full course of an interrogation is relevant to the truthfulness, accuracy or voluntariness of a statement."
Palladino argues there are too many potential pitfalls, including exposing the NYPD's practices and offending juries who misread them as being unfair.
"Interrogation is an art," he said. "There are certain tools of the trade. ... We can use trickery. That may seem unfair to jurors, but that's a legal tactic in this country."
No taping is needed to keep detectives honest, he said.
"This is 2010 and the day of the rubber hose and extracting confessions is over, despite what you see on TV," he said.