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Scarsdale Ready as State Weighs Interrogation Law

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – While Albany debates tougher standards for interrogation of suspects, Scarsdale police say they are already ahead of the game.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require police officers to videotape suspects as they are questioned by detectives, a procedure the Scarsdale Police Department already planned on utilizing.

Scarsdale Police Lt. Thomas Altizio said that the tapes are help in a variety of ways to both aid and protect police during interviews.

“It’s always useful to have a tape of a statement. They make it harder to make any claims against us down the road,” he said. “People are more inclined to admit to things orally rather than writing down incriminating statements. It also helps record demeanor; transcripts can’t show how someone is acting or where they’re looking.”

Prosecutors across the state have long taped criminal confessions, but proponents of recording the entire interrogation, including the New York State Bar Association, argue it will ensure those confessions are legitimate.

New York has the third-largest number of wrongful convictions in the country, according to the Innocence Project, a national institution dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people. And false confessions have played a factor in 44 percent of New York’s wrongful convictions, according to the group.

"Improperly conducted interrogations can and do result in false confessions,” Seymour W. James, president of the New York State Bar Association, said in a news release. “The videotaping of an entire interrogation allows the judge and jurors to see for themselves whether police officers used proper procedures or coerced the defendant to confess.”

While more than a dozen states require interrogations to be recorded, the proposal has been stymied in New York in recent years, and has never been able to make it through the state Senate.

The bill was passed by the state Assembly on June 4, the same day it was introduced in the Senate. The Senate has yet to take action on it.

Altizio said that the department is already in the process of installing a system that will record all interviews of suspects in custody. They’ve been accepting quotes, and hope to have it installed in a few weeks.

The system is estimated to cost between $10,000 and $12,000, made possible through a gift to the department.

Altizio said that they would have liked to have it in place sooner, but due to the department's relocation to the renovated Scarsdale Public Safety Building in mid-November, they had to put the plan on hold.

“Most departments are moving toward using video. For us, we already take video of all of our traffic stops, we didn’t do it sooner because we were relocating,” he said. “It’s pretty standard practice now, most are using it. It offers an extra level of protection and helps us protect our officers.”

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