In a reaction to cases of police brutality and coerced confessions, Illinois will require recording of official interrogations in homicide cases starting in summer 2005. All questioning of juvenile suspects must also be recorded on video- or audiotape. The Los Angeles Times reports that Minnesota and Alaska have had similar policies for years, and taping mandates are under consideration in Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey. More than a dozen law-enforcement agencies – from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Prince George’s County, Md. – have decided not to wait for state requirements and to begin recording interrogations in their most serious felony cases.
Proponents insist that if detectives are doing everything by the book, they should not care if a hidden camera records them. But to many investigators, the camera fundamentally changes the dynamics of an interrogation. Officers typically conduct interviews in private, perhaps with a partner, then summarize the tense hours of back-and-forth in a few paragraphs. With a camera rolling, the windowless interview room is suddenly open to the world. Investigators must consider how their tactics will play before a jury. And how a defense lawyer might pick apart their words.
“We’re no longer just detectives now. We have to be actors … and we have to be attorneys,” said Master Sgt. Steve Johnson, chief investigator for the Sheriff’s Department in St. Clair County, Ill.