Police brass clarifies 'confusion' about new policy

Posted: March 03, 2014

THERE WERE some mixups, and maybe a few cops who were just plain ticked off.

Either way, the Philadelphia Police Department issued a "clarification" missive to officers earlier this week about the department's new interview and interrogation policy, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

The memo noted that "it is entirely reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to temporarily detain all persons found at a crime scene. It is also expected," according to a copy obtained by the Daily News.

The three-page note makes it clear that temporarily detaining people at a crime scene wouldn't conflict with a passage in Directive 151, the new interview policy, which states that a complainant or witness can refuse to be taken from a crime scene to a detective division for questioning.

"There was some confusion," said Capt. Francis Healy, who crafted the new interview and interrogation policy with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

"Some officers were concerned that we couldn't detain people temporarily anymore, but every police agency does that," Healy said. "Of course, if you don't want to stay, you're free to leave."

Healy said he had heard that some cops who were unhappy with the new policy were "taking things to the nth degree" and overly emphasizing the fact that witnesses could leave.

"I'd call it malicious compliance," he said. "Some officers just don't like change, but they have to change whether they like it or not."

The Innocence Project lauded the new policy, which puts strict limits on how long suspects can be held for questioning, and takes other steps to safeguard against false confessions and false identifications.

Several investigators who spoke with the Daily News anonymously said the new policy could make it more difficult to solve homicides, shootings and other violent crimes.

As of Thursday night, the city had recorded 45 homicides - compared with 32 a year ago - and the clearance rate is about 40 percent, a police representative said.

"I still feel like they wrote this policy up without considering the ramifications," said one investigator, who didn't want to be named. "If you give people a reason not to come in for questioning, they won't. The real litmus test will be in the spring and summer, when we start seeing more shootings."

Said another veteran officer: "If we follow the letter of the law on this, how many homicides do you think we'll solve? Zero."

Healy said cops made the same predictions years ago when they were first required to recite the Miranda warning to suspects. But crimes were still solved.

"We're not going to scoop up people against their will . . . [but] we're also not going to shoo everybody away at a crime scene," he said. "Our job is to convince people of how important it is for them to come in [to be interviewed]. We also need to treat them with respect and courtesy."

On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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