Questions in the interview room

When something’s a big deal, it’s natural to talk about it. Like the handling of evidence, or making what you get from witnesses or suspects stick. So why is it that something that combines all of these elements and commonly becomes the centerpiece of a case is problem prone?

We’re talking about interview room recording. But the real question is: Why isn’t hardly anyone else?

A poorly setup interview room recorder is like a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode on your most important case. The high-profile one, involving a child. The one that’s recently gained national media attention.

Your people will be taking the stand soon, and you know they have no explanation for that critical, unrecorded section of the interrogation. That moment just before the suspect says "I did it.” Sure, everyone has plenty of notes, you have a signed confession. But you know the coming challenge: "Isn't it convenient that the recorder cut out just before the confession. During those minutes my client was coerced." We all know that’s what the defense will argue.

Maybe one reason it’s not a hot topic is technology has supposedly already stepped in to offer a sure-fire cure. Digital – it’s supposed to be better, cutting edge, but all you seem to get from digital is headaches. Sure fire becomes a misfire, right in front of the national media.


Digital’s promise has always been one of heightened quality. Remember when you started buying your favorite music on digital CD disc? Digital was touted as better. And so it is with video. DVDs, DV, HDTV, DTV. It's all better, right? But when it comes to video, digital can be tricky. In many ways, digital video can be better, but in other ways, it may shoot you in the foot. And that’s the case with digital video-recording systems, including interview room systems.

Many agencies have used consumer or prosumer DVD recorders, and others have used DVRs aimed at the CCTV market as interview room recording systems. Many of these systems have served up uncertainty and unreliability. One nightmare is an unreliable system missing portions of the video recording in high-profile cases. These situations can leave an agency with no explanation. Under oath, they are forced to reveal that the equipment they specifically purchased and installed to record interviews did not do its most basic purpose in life – record the interview.

A recurring theme is a department spending a large sum of money to equip multiple interview rooms with a full-featured recording system. Networking, view-the-interview from any office and so on. Only to have the complexity overtake the main function of the device. These interview room systems can't seem to talk and chew gum at the same time. So then the department gets frustrated and purchases dirt-cheap DVD recorders, which are reliable only if used properly. There are too many buttons that can render a recording useless. The DVD recorders end up with sticky note warnings, "Do not press the blue button!" Tape covering various buttons. So, they have a system that is unreliable in a different way -- too hard to use -- with a risk of fouling the evidence because a wrong button has been pressed.

It’s a huge issue, a dark undercurrent to the daily operations of any agency. And any cure has to deliver two things: ease of use and reliability. Let us know what you think.

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