Phila. police begin recording interrogations

Posted: March 30, 2014

PHILADELPHIA The cameras are now rolling.

Philadelphia police this week completed the installation of eight cameras inside the Homicide Unit's four interview rooms - the first step of a new department policy to record interrogations in all major crimes.

For now, the cameras, operational as of Wednesday, are limited to the Homicide Unit, but Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey plans to install them in every detective division as soon as funding permits.

Some glitches involving computer coding had delayed the start of the program, which had been scheduled to begin by March 1, said Lt. John Stanford, a department spokesman. The cameras - one in the upper corner of each interview room, and another nearer to eye level - were installed late last year.

That was the easy part, Stanford said. The challenges involved drafting an orderly and cost-efficient storage plan for the images in the department's computer database.

"The storage part is definitely the biggest hurdle," Stanford said, "especially when we get into all of the detective divisions."

Ramsey said the benefits of taping interrogations are unmistakable. Suspects are protected against false confessions and unlawful interrogation tactics, while police only need to press "play" when faced with false claims that they coerced confessions.

Plus, Ramsey said, detectives "can get better" at interrogations by watching themselves on tape.

Thomas Sullivan, a Chicago defense attorney who has written extensively on taping interrogations, said at first some investigators worry about the "clam-up effect" - that suspects will be more reticent with the cameras rolling. But that never lasts long, he said.

For their part, Philadelphia detectives don't seem too worried. Sure, one veteran detective said, suspects might tense up a bit, knowing the cameras are rolling.

"But you just have to adapt and deal with it and still keep doing your thing," the detective said. "Tell them we're taping this to protect the both of us, and try and make them feel as comfortable as you can, and slowly and surely get them to tell you the truth."


 

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