Like having video cameras in police cars to record what happens when a motorist is pulled over or a police officer arrives on the scene of a crime, using video to record interrogations in potential felony cases will protect the accused and police officers alike.
A bill that took effect Thursday requires audiovisual recordings to be made during “custodial interrogations” in felony investigations in which a conviction would lead to at least 20 years in prison.
For a lot of local departments that won’t mean much. Traverse City Police Department interview rooms were outfitted for audio and visual recording three years ago.
“It’s something this office has wanted and agencies have been doing ... especially in major felonies,” said Noelle Moeggenberg, Grand Traverse County’s chief assistant prosecutor.
For other departments, the new law could bring new costs. Kalkaska County, for example, makes audio recordings but the department doesn’t have needed video equipment.
The Benzie County Sheriff’s Department routinely makes video recordings.
The law requires the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to submit regular reports on equipment costs, which will be given to the Legislature to appropriate necessary funds.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said it took six long years for the Legislature to act, but requiring at least some interrogations to be taped is “a good first step.”
Videotaping allows for review of interrogations when a suspect claims police coercion or brutality, protecting both the accused and the police officers doing the questioning.
Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said knowing the full context of a suspect’s answer can be important when they are brought to trial.
“I think it protects both (investigators and suspects),” he said.
This is simply common-sense use of widely available technology to protect the process and the people involved. Police officers are susceptible to claims by defendants that they were intimidated or even roughed up during an interrogation. A video record can quickly debunk bogus claims and save officers a lot of stress and aggravation.
The reverse is just as true. Having a camera recording what’s going on in an interview room will make the process not only more reliable but safer for someone accused of a crime.
The ACLU said the law does not have enough bite. But if police fail to record an interrogation, jurors would be told that it’s Michigan law to do so and that they can consider that failure in their deliberations.
The law should be expanded to include all interrogations for all crimes; but it’s a good start.