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Law enforcement agencies using new technology for interviews

July 26, 2010|By DON AINES

A recent suppression hearing in Washington County Circuit Court featured a 90-minute video recording of a Washington County Sheriff's detective interviewing a man suspected of molesting a child.

The interview was recorded in February with technology that is new to local law enforcement.

During the course of the hearing, one short segment of the video was reviewed several times by the judge and by the defense and prosecuting attorneys, Assistant State's Attorney Brett Wilson said.

"There's no more guessing games over what happened at the police interview" with the iRecord system, Wilson said.

Memories of interviews can vary and notes taken by officers can be questioned, but many of the questions that arise following a police interview can be answered when the audio and video are digitally preserved, he said.

"The system does not eliminate all the ambiguities," Wilson said.

There still are issues for lawyers to argue and for judges to decide, but the demeanor of the interviewer and interviewee, what was asked and the answers to those questions are there for all to see, he said.

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The system is an improvement over previous technology, but it has its flaws. In the interview of the suspected child molester, there were overlapping conversations between the suspect, a relative and two officers in the room, making some answers hard to decipher.

"This is not required by any government edict," Wilson said of video recording interviews. "It's the choice of the individual law enforcement agency."

The Hagerstown Police Department has had the system in place for about two months and is using it for the majority of interviews, Capt. Mark Holtzman said. Two rooms are wired with iRecord, each with two camera views, he said.

"For the longest time, we just did audio (recordings), then we installed a VHS camera," Holtzman said.

The iRecord system allows a supervisor or other case agents to see an interview remotely from another room, Holtzman said. During breaks, they can suggest questions that the interviewing officer might not have asked, he said.

Uniformed patrol officers also can watch the interviews, making it a training tool, Holtzman said. The system is the same as the one used by the sheriff's office, Holtzman said.

"We liked what they were doing and we wanted to keep things consistent," Holtzman said.

The $28,000 system was paid for by a grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, he said.

The picture and sound quality are far superior to the VHS system the sheriff's office used, Capt. Pete Lazich said. It has been using the system, also paid for with a Crime Control and Prevention grant, for about a year, he said.

The sheriff's office has one interview room in a secured area for those in custody and another in an unsecured area for interviews with people who are not under arrest, Lazich said.

The Safe Place Child Advocacy Center installed the first iRecord system in the state in 2007, Program Manager Teresa Thorn said. A Washington County sheriff's deputy who works with the center on child abuse cases visited the manufacturer and two child advocacy centers in Indiana to evaluate the system.

"We use it to record interviews of child victims," Thorn said. "It's very important for us to know what a child is saying, the expressions, the nonverbals," she said.

Safe Place has two interview rooms and an observation room, Thorn said. The system was paid for with a combination of grants, money from Friends of Safe Place and Rotary Club support, she said.

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