Some Police Departments Still Lack Video Interrogation Policies—What’s the Solution?

A recent study conducted by the Pennsylvania Carey Law School has found that many law enforcement agencies across the state are falling short of police interrogation best practices—from completely lacking written policies on the subject, and even ignoring the importance of recording interview evidence altogether.

One news outlet in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County highlights specific townships that have required video recording for all police custodial interrogations. Unfortunately, the report shows that these measures are rarely repeated in other agencies across the state. Pennsylvania isn’t an exception, either. Multiple states share the same types of statistics. Only a small number of agencies have established comprehensive guidelines for conducting custodial interrogations, despite all the benefits of securing high-definition recordings for interrogation evidence.

Why Agencies Need to Record Interview Evidence

There are many benefits of requiring interrogations to be recorded on video. First, being able to deliver audio video interview evidence works to provide the court with a reliable account of the interrogation from start to finish. This can effectively remove any doubt as to whether it was conducted appropriately and help prevent false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions.

What’s more, agencies that operate without any written policies on managing interrogations, let alone recording their interrogations, are just leaving themselves open to public scrutiny with accusations of misconduct. The U.S. Constitution requires law enforcement professionals to set out the Miranda warnings. But when a department’s policy simply starts and ends right there, then neither the interview subject’s nor the officer’s rights can truly be protected.

All parties should have an audio video record of the interview evidence available for review. The court needs to consider all of the evidence in detail, and interviews and interrogations have powerful impacts over any case ruling. Audio video recordings can resolve concerns about an interrogation’s reliability or ethicality. If anyone raises concerns, then it’s just a matter of watching the recording to confirm that the agency navigated the entire process according to the industry’s best practices.

Developing Your Custodial Interrogation Policies

As outlined in the law school’s study, Pennsylvania has more than 1,000 police departments, yet only a handful of agencies have a comprehensive set of custodial interrogation policies set in place. Only 217 have written policies on the actual recording of police interrogations; and of that, a mere 6% of agencies are so specific as to require video recording within their custodial interrogation policies.

The report is ultimately arguing for a standardized interrogation policy in Pennsylvania through legislation. But in the meantime, agencies can still take responsibility and start drafting their own set of custodial interrogation policies, like some of their peers have already done.

There’s great potential for the state because 39% of agencies lack written policies about conducting witness and victim interviews, or suspect interrogations; and another 22% of agencies have “some written policies on this topic,” according to the Carey Law School report.

Thankfully, some parts of the country do require audio video recordings for all custodial interrogations. Yet even with this, many agencies still aren’t able to provide the court with the most accurate interview evidence possible, with recordings that document every word and every body language cue.

Along the way, it’s critical for agencies to have a clear set of policies and procedures for employees to follow before, during, and after the interview recording process. One way that law enforcement agencies can quickly make progress is to use an Interview Evidence Recording Policy Template. It’s easy to get started, and it’s arguably the best next step to solving the wide-spread problem of jurisdictions still not setting out their own policies and requiring audio video evidence recordings for custodial interviews and interrogations across the board.

Get on the right track—start writing your agency’s policies today.

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