In what the Wall Street Journal calls an unexpected development, the New York City Police Department plans to video record full interrogations of all suspects in murder and sexual assault cases. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced what would be a significant expansion of an anti-abuse initiative in the nation’s largest police force. NYPD began taping interrogations last year but only minimally: a pilot program was limited to felony assault suspects in two precincts.
The announcement comes at a time when the department faces intensifying criticism over the civil-rights implications of some of its practices. Kelly has defended the department against allegations that stop-and-frisks and surveillance in Muslim communities have unfairly targeted minority communities. Videotaping interrogations has become an increasingly common practice in law enforcement over the past two decades. It can serve as a shield against strong-arm police tactics that can lead to false confessions as well as claims by defendants that they were pressured into admitting guilt. Some investigators resist, fearing the tapes give criminals a window into interrogation techniques and that juries may balk at some of the more aggressive, if legal, police strategies. Of New York State’s 509 police agencies, 341 record suspect interviews in some crimes, typically in at least murder and rape investigations. Nationwide, 18 states and Washington, D.C., require the complete recording of interrogations for some crimes.