FBI agents routinely use DNA tests, fingerprints, ballistics, psychological profiling, and the world’s most advanced forensic methods. Yet the bureau allows agents to use tape recorders only “on a limited, highly selective basis, and only when authorized by the SAC (special agent in charge),” the Arizona Republic reports. Standard procedure calls for at least two agents to conduct interrogations: one asking questions and the other taking notes. The notes are used later to produce a typed summary known as Form 302. When agents testify months or years down the road, they rely on 302s, and memory. Critics say the practice leads to botched investigations, lost evidence, unprofessional conduct, and damaged credibility for the justice system.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter said taping is strictly limited because it “can inhibit full and frank discussion or can end an interview entirely.” Most other enforcement agencies leave taping to the discretion of investigators – some even encourage officers to record interrogations – without any problem. Phoenix Police Department policy, for example, instructs violent-crimes detectives to “make every attempt to audio- or video-tape suspect and critical witness interviews in felony investigations.” Thomas P. Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney from northern Illinois, in research for Northwestern University School of Law, queried police agencies in 43 states and found that recorded interrogations are a benefit to police and the justice system. He also noticed a clear trend toward taping. “Sooner or later, the federal government will get on board,” he said. “I’ve talked to more than 400 police departments and sheriff’s offices where recordings are used. I can’t remember anyone who didn’t like it.”