Navigating Interview Recording Compliance for Law Enforcement
Written by Ryan Vogt   

ALL ACROSS THE NATION, public safety professionals are working hard to defend our rights and protect the peace. Whether they’re serving out in the community or managing cases in the office, their jobs demand the best technology available. Making sure police departments have the right tools can make all the difference for justice to play out.

Recent changes to interview recording laws have made technology even more crucial for police work. New policies are encouraging electronic recordings for subject interviews, which is leading more and more states to look for the upgrades that will help keep their interviews compliant. Some precincts are choosing to utilize audio-video capture solutions even before legislation is enacted. The result is a more streamlined, efficient, and secure way to collect evidence.

In order for interview recording to be beneficial, however, departments must follow the right steps. Without a compliant setup and the proper equipment, sites won’t be able to record the necessary evidence for their cases. Understanding the ins and outs of these recording laws and how to keep your interview recording room compliant is vital for today’s law enforcement professionals—and the communities they serve.

History of Interview Recording

In 2003, Illinois became the first state to pass legislation for the mandatory recording of interviews with homicide suspects. About one decade later, we started seeing these policies on the national level. On July 11, 2014, a new policy for interview recording was established on a much wider scale. These guidelines from Attorney General Eric Holder covered circumstances connected with federal criminal charges. A press release from May 2014 outlined the policy shift and explained how its broad reach extended across the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives, and U.S. Marshals Service. In short, the policy encourages all places of detention to use electronic recording equipment whenever individuals are held in federal custody.

Creating a presumption that statements be electronically recorded can only help strengthen our fair system of justice. To do this, capturing an interview in its entirety is key. Since this policy was enacted, more states and individual jurisdictions have implemented their own policies calling for electronic recordings. Adhering to the policies outlined at the federal level helps to keep standards across the country.

New Recording Laws

Since the federal policy was introduced four years ago, more areas have worked to adopt similar changes on the state and local level. Thus, we should only expect the trend of audio-video recordings to continue. Currently the District of Columbia and numerous states report statewide use of electronic recordings, as collected in the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) online compendium. Some states in this list have passed legislation to record all custodial interviews, while others have specific regulations on their coverage. As of May 2018, Kansas and New York are the most recent states to pass legislation in favor of custodial recordings.

Some states, such as Indiana and New Jersey, have even taken action through their state supreme courts. A few more states appear to have a majority in favor of recording laws, too. While they don’t have state-wide policies in place, about 1,000 jurisdictions across Arizona, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Utah, have made the switch and implemented recording policies voluntarily.

Although custodial interview recordings are not required throughout the entire country, there has been a significant sweep in support of the process. It’s likely just a matter of time before they all upgrade their protocols—and for good reason. The practice is well worth the effort for all parties involved.

Benefits of Video Recording

Proponents of video recording often cite studies about false confessions, but there’s so much more to these systems. In addition to protecting the suspects in custody, audio video capture solutions also protect officers, detectives, courts, and the entire judicial process against unnecessary disputes. Considering all of the benefits can lead many law enforcement agencies to call for an updated system of their own. It can be a meaningful investment for a smoother, more reliable interview process.

Save Time—Recordings can help eliminate lengthy trials and hearings. When a single recording contains all the necessary evidence, extensive testimony may prove unnecessary. Saving time for officers preparing reports by hand also streamlines the system. Electronic videos that allow for note-taking inside the program are often much more efficient. Some recording solutions can even be utilized across the legal network, making it easy to share evidence and notes between departments, or with legal counsel.

Defend the Innocent—Video documenting the entire interview process gives better protection for individuals who are innocent. Too many cases have been reported that come down to problems during custody. Reducing the risk of wrongful convictions is valued all across the justice system. Helping to ensure that the guilty pleas are obtained justly lets the truth come to light. Moreover, irrefutable video evidence also protects officers and other interviewers against abuse claims or accusations of coercion.

Stronger Evidence—Providing audio-visual coverage of the entire interview process gives the prosecution better evidence for their case. This can lead to fewer pretrial motions that must be suppressed. It also gives jurors a more objective view of custodial interviews and statements. Being able to see the body language and hear the tone of voice leaves less room for misunderstandings. Because they can see how the interview was being handled with their own eyes, jurors can be better equipped to interpret the situation for themselves—with all the facts.

Of course, these benefits are only possible when the interview recording room is set up in the correct way. Keeping interviews compliant is of the utmost importance if police departments are to provide admissible evidence for each and every case.

Staying Compliant

For a truly compliant video, you must start recording at the top of the interview. Missing any step in the recording process will compromise the evidence. Being able to initiate the recording with a simple flip of a switch, like turning on a light, can help start and end recordings in an easy, intuitive way. Then the interviewer can focus on the task at hand—without being distracted by any special piece of equipment.

It is also important that the subject not feel threatened or intimidated by seeing the recording equipment itself. Concealed recording devices are preferred, unless an overt system is required by law. Cameras and microphones are meant to be hidden in interview rooms to give the subject a sense of privacy. Positioning such devices can be easier in some rooms than others, but working with an experienced interview room design team can help departments find the best solution for their space.

Compliancy issues are also closely tied to camera position. When arranging the camera, it is important that the subject’s whole body, from head to feet, is in view. Being able to analyze body language in this way can be especially helpful for jurors. Also, the recording is meant to demonstrate that the subject was treated properly while in custody. Not allowing their full body in the recording can raise questions.

For this reason, it is also necessary for the subject’s chair to be in full-view of the camera to be compliant with recording laws. In order to capture the best video, cameras are often placed at a height of approximately six feet. Positioning the equipment at a slight angle can also help keep your recording in focus.

Tips for Room Design

A properly-designed interview room helps police departments obtain the information they need for a fair trial. The goal should be to create a casual, non-threatening office setting. Selecting your furniture with that tone in mind will help jurors analyze your evidence without bias.

To start, plan for a space without windows to the outside. This will help cultivate a sense of privacy. The dimensions of 8 x 10 ft. are often standard for interview rooms because they can accommodate three people comfortably, without feeling too big. This helps everyone stay focused on the conversation.

In your design, everything from the floor coverings to the paint color on the walls should be chosen with care. Short carpet fibers are nice because they help absorb sound and are relatively easy to keep clean. A neutral paint color for the walls can also set the tone and keep everything professional. Artwork is not typically advised, unless it is positioned behind the subject. Limiting distractions helps facilitate a productive interview, but it can be nice to add an aesthetic element to an otherwise sparse room.

Interview Room Furniture

There should typically only be four pieces of furniture in your interview room. One table and three chairs will often suffice. When selecting your chairs, look for pieces that are reasonably comfortable, but relatively plain. Styles similar to what you might find in a reception area or waiting room tend to be good fits. Stay away from swivel seats, and try to choose chairs that don’t have arms. Since the seating shouldn’t restrict movement, armless chairs may be a better fit for everyone in the room.

How the furniture is arranged will largely depend on where you can position your recording equipment. However, it’s especially important to put your table in a strategic spot. Placing a table, desk, or other barrier between the subject and interviewer would be a serious error. Having a table in front of the subject can take on the feeling or purpose of a shield. In turn, they might feel more confident and “protected,” which can make it easier to lie to the interviewer.

Placing a table or desk in front of the subject will also block part of their body from the camera. Tables set against a wall, away from the subject work better. Then the camera can record valuable information for the jury, such as nonverbal behavior from the subject’s lower body movements.

A Secure and Reliable System

Working with an experienced interview room team of designers will help you achieve the right style and layout for your room. But the bulk of what makes an interview room compliant comes down to the recording equipment itself. It’s not enough to set up any camera system. You need audio-video equipment that will provide accurate recordings, while simultaneously working to prevent tampering.

The system needs to be properly secured to ensure that no interviews are lost. Being able to edit your video can be helpful when only a small portion is needed for the trial, but making sure that the entire, original recording is kept intact will help protect every case. Strict log-in settings and having a report of whoever has accessed files will keep your evidence compliant. An audit log can track every action made with a particular interview recording, such as the time of access, and who has viewed the content, made notes or copies, and issued redactions.

Of course, the original files will still need to be saved securely. Backing up every recording ensures that none of your evidence is lost. These IT solutions are much more practical than the stacks of VHS tapes and proprietary surveillance DVRs from the past. An experienced recording solutions company can work in tandem with your IT department to find the options that work best for your day-to-day functions. Since today’s electronic recording options require very little physical storage or equipment, it’s even easier to securely store and access whatever you need.

Overcoming Challenges

Police departments wanting to utilize recorded equipment for their interviews may come up against a couple challenges. The first point of confusion can relate to image quality. It’s important to remember that interview recordings will not be as picture-perfect as the latest blockbuster movie on the big screen. Yet, the picture should still be clear. More importantly, the audio should be nice and crisp. Compliant court evidence may not look as polished as the shows we watch on television, but it’s still an invaluable tool for the justice system. The content and accuracy of the interview are what matter most. Great audio quality and a consistent view of the subject are the ultimate goal.

The second challenge comes down to funding. Navigating the budgetary limitations of your department and recording equipment isn’t easy, but there are great opportunities to get the financial support you need. Grant money for police departments is available across the country, so it’s important to submit applications for consideration. Websites like GrantWatch and even the Office for Victims of Crime provide information about grant writing and other resources.

Some recording solutions companies will even help you with the grant process themselves, so it’s a good idea to talk with them to see what help they can offer. The right company will also work with you to analyze your best options for cameras and microphones—all of which need to be carefully matched to your space and team’s needs. Starting with a site consultation is a great way to get the ball rolling.

Taking the Next Step

As more law enforcement agencies make the switch to recording their interrogations, a lot of good can be expected. The innocent can receive better protection with video recordings, and public service officials can be helped as well. Interview subjects can have more confidence that they will be treated justly. Communities who understand the value of recorded interrogations can feel safer, as well.

Technology is a great tool for upholding the law and defending justice and peace. Before new policies pass in the rest of the country, it can be useful to act before the changes are expected. This shows the public that your department is committed to innovation, and that improving efficiency is a priority for your team. A streamlined system for interrogation recordings can make it so much simpler to provide evidence to court officials and edit redactions. The benefit of freeing up time and space around the office has proven to be a great improvement for police departments all across the United States.

Getting a jump-start on your new recording equipment is easy with the right resources. Consult with the other precincts in your area to find what solutions are working for them. Or reach out to a trusted recording solutions company to start planning your new interview room. Much of the nation is already on board with electronic interrogation recording. Don’t let your police department fall behind. The latest technology is secure, smart, and easy to use. Upgrading your recording equipment can be a wonderful asset not only to your department—but for your community as a whole.


About the Author

Ryan Vogt, Director or Business development with iRecord, is an interview room recording and design consultant with Word Systems, Inc.


References

1. Davey, Monica. “Illinois Will Require Taping Of Homicide Interrogations.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 July 2003, www.nytimes.com/2003/07/17/us/illinois-will-require-taping-of-homicide-interrogations.htm https://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/17/us/illinois-will-require-taping-of-homicide-interrogations.html Accessed March 26, 2018

2. “Attorney General Holder Announces Significant Policy Shift Concerning Electronic Recording of Statements.” The United States Department of Justice, 22 May 2014, www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-holder-announces-significant-policy-shift-concerning-electronic-recording Accessed March 26, 2018

3. Sullivan, Tom. “Compendium: Electronic Recording of Custodial Interrogations.” Electronic Recording Project, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, www.nacdl.org/recordingsmap/ Accessed March 26, 2018

4. “False Confessions & Recording Of Custodial Interrogations.” Innocence Project, www.innocenceproject.org/false-confessions-recording-interrogations/ Accessed March 26, 2018

5. 10 Things You Need to Know In Designing An Interview Room. iRecord, 2015. Accessed via PDF

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine. <http://read.nxtbook.com/wordsmith/evidence_technology/summer_2018/index.html#navigating_interview_recordin>

 
< Prev   Next >






Court Case Update

FINGERPRINT EVIDENCE went through a nearly three-year ordeal in the New Hampshire court system, but eventually emerged unscathed. On April 4, 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision of a lower court to exclude expert testimony regarding fingerprint evidence in the case of The State of New Hampshire v. Richard Langill. The case has been remanded back to the Rockingham County Superior Court.

Read more...