NYPD to videotape suspects' statements

New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly at a news conference in this file photo. (April 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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In a major initiative aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly announced Wednesday that all post-arrest statements of suspects in homicide and sex-crime cases will be videotaped at police precincts.

Video recording of those statements should help lessen concerns about false or coerced confessions, Kelly told a breakfast meeting at the Carnegie Council.

"Recording can aid not only the innocent, the defense and prosecution, but also enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system by increasing transparency as to what was said and done when the suspect agreed to speak with police," said Kelly.

The decision to tape homicide and sex-crime suspects follows a pilot program in which officers in four precincts recorded statements in felony assault cases. About 300 interviews were taped and Kelly said the test prompted police to expand the practice to all precincts and some specialized commands.

Kelly said funding the expanded program could be a problem, and that the department is turning to the nonprofit New York City Police Foundation for help in raising a $3 million grant. Many police precincts are antiquated and will require refurbishment to handle video technology, and officers will have to be trained to handle the equipment, he added.

It was hard to estimate how often the taping will be used. There are about 400 to 500 homicides a year and about 1,420 rapes -- just one kind of sex crime -- annually, records show.

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Michael Palladino, head of the detectives union, supported Kelly, but feared some sympathetic jurors, after viewing tapes, might release a dangerous criminal who should be in prison.

Still, law-enforcement officials praised the decision and thought it would have far-reaching impact.

"If Ray Kelly is doing this in New York City, you will not only see a trend of it in the rest of the state, but also around the country," said New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who chaired a special state task force that last year recommended expanding videotaping of post-arrest statements.

Amy Feinstein, chief assistant to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, said the pilot program was used in the 67th Precinct in the Crown Heights area. About 150 statements were recorded and in some cases early plea deals were struck when defense attorneys reviewed the tapes, she said.

Kelly said videotaping has long been the aim of the Innocence Project, which seeks the exoneration of wrongfully convicted defendants.

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"Commissioner Kelly's leadership is a signal to police across the state that this is a practice whose time has come," said Stephen Saloom, an official at the project.

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