In an op-ed piece appearing in the Los Angeles Times, Washington, D.C., police detective Jim Trainum explains why he believes all law enforcement agencies should videotape interrogations.
I've been a police officer for 25 years, and I never understood why someone would admit to a crime he or she didn't commit. Until I secured a false confession in a murder case.
I stepped into the interrogation room believing that we had evidence linking the suspect to the murder of a 34-year-old federal employee in Washington. I used standard, approved interrogation techniques — no screaming or threats, no physical abuse, no 12-hour sessions without food or water. Many hours later, I left with a solid confession.
Then we discovered that the suspect had an ironclad alibi. We subpoenaed sign-in/sign-out logs from the homeless shelter where she lived, and the records proved that she could not have committed the crime… Even though it wasn't our standard operating procedure in the mid-1990s, when the crime occurred, we had videotaped the interrogation in its entirety. Reviewing the tapes years later, I saw that we had fallen into a classic trap. We ignored evidence that our suspect might not have been guilty, and during the interrogation we inadvertently fed her details of the crime that she repeated back to us in her confession.
Trainum goes on to write that this case was a turning point for him. State lawmakers, he says, should begin to require the recording of interrogations to prevent false confessions and wrongful convictions. While more than 500 jurisdictions currently record interrogations, only 10 states mandate it. “The only police officers I've met who don't embrace recording interrogations are those who have never done it,” Trainum writes.
Neither the Federal Government nor Washington State Law Enforcement currently mandate recordings of confessions.