Beyond Police Compliance With Electronic Recording of Interrogation Legislation: Toward Error Reduction

Published date01 May 2019
Date01 May 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2019, Vol. 30(4) 627 –655
© The Author(s) 2017
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403417718241
Beyond Police Compliance
With Electronic Recording
of Interrogation Legislation:
Toward Error Reduction
Marvin Zalman1, Laura L. Rubino2, and Brad Smith1
Video recording police interrogations is a widespread reform designed to reduce
false confessions. An exploratory survey of Michigan police departments following
the adoption of a video recording law indicates that the policy is uniformly
followed. A significant number of agencies go beyond the law’s requirements by
video recording in the investigation of all crimes and not only major felonies. Most
recording captures both the interrogator and suspect. Prior to passage, half of the
agencies supported the law and half were neutral. The law stimulated a quarter of
the agencies to video record interrogations. A literature review and policy analysis
suggests that video recording is a necessary but not a sufficient reform to reduce
false confessions and wrongful convictions. Progress toward less confrontational
investigative interviewing, used in several European countries and gaining a foothold
in the United States, is recommended.
interrogation, video recording, false confessions, innocence policies
On March 28, 2013, Michigan Act No. 479 of 2012 went into effect, providing that “A
law enforcement official interrogating an individual in custodial detention regarding
the individual’s involvement in the commission of a major felony shall make a time-
stamped, audiovisual recording of the entire interrogation” (Act 479, 2012, Sec. 8;
1Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA
2University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Marvin Zalman, Criminal Justice Department, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.
718241CJPXXX10.1177/0887403417718241Criminal Justice Policy ReviewZalman et al.
628 Criminal Justice Policy Review 30(4)
Heinlin, 2013). This law was not unique. When it passed, Michigan joined at least 10
other states and the District of Columbia requiring electronic recording of police inter-
rogations by statute or court decision. In addition, hundreds of police departments
across the nation had voluntarily adopted electronic recording by department policy.
Several military branches and Intelligence services adopted electronic recording of
detainees; the prestigious Uniform Law Commission (ULC) adopted a model statute
for state legislatures to emulate (Taslitz, 2012).
Electronically recording interrogations, advocated for a century, is a popular crimi-
nal justice reform that “has become pervasive nationwide” (Wynbrandt, 2016, p. 560).
It was opposed by law enforcement until the reality of false confessions became better
known (Leo, 2008, pp. 291-296; Trainum, 2016). By yearend 2016, at least 14 states
and the District of Columbia joined the electronic recording bandwagon by legislation,
another seven by court action, and a reported 1,000 police jurisdictions voluntarily
implemented recording (Innocence Project, 2016).1 The states that now require elec-
tronic recording are found in all regions of the country except (with one exception) the
South. New York and California have not adopted this reform statewide. Yet New York
authorities reported that “341 of the state’s 509 police agencies are recording suspect
interviews in some crimes” (Innocence Project News, 2012) and 42 California depart-
ments video record interrogations (Sullivan, 2010). Simply requiring electronic
recording, however, does not eliminate all policy issues. First, legislation can increase
or reduce pressure on police departments to rigorously follow requirements by allow-
ing exceptions and by the firmness of sanctions imposed for noncompliance.
Furthermore, the test is not that legislation is written but that it is followed in practice.
Finally, even though electronic recording is a necessary reform, it may not be suffi-
cient to prevent false confessions or wrongful convictions. Embarrassing failures to
record in two high profile New York Police Department (NYPD) investigations
emphasize the need for effective and not just paper reform.2
The present exploratory survey research study explores Michigan law enforcement
agencies’ policies and practices related to audiovisual recording during custodial inter-
rogations soon after legislation mandated the practice. We sought to determine whether
the agencies conducted audiovisual recordings of custodial interrogations, whether
they had formal written policies related to recording of custodial interrogations, their
level of awareness of and support for Act 479 prior to passage, and how Act 479
affected practices and policies. This study begins to move analysis of law enforcement
interrogation reform from the rule-adoption phase to the practice-and-attitude-change
stage, and is placed in the context of wrongful conviction, psychology, law, and public
policy studies.
Literature Review and Analysis
Before the 1990s, electronic recording of police interrogations was seen as a potential
improvement of police efficiency and legitimacy; preventing false convictions was
only one goal among others (Geller, 1992). The growing realization that false confes-
sions occur regularly and can contribute to wrongful convictions made the policy of

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