You’ve heard the story. In Biscayne Park, just north of Miami, officers were directed to pin crimes on innocent people in order to improve their percentage of closed cases. In many cases, the people targeted were African-Americans with prior criminal records. and one officer has already admitted to fabricating five confessions.
“If you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries” an officer claims that commanders told him.
A federal civil rights case is underway, accusing the former police chief and two officers of conspiring to violate civil rights. They have pled not guilty to the charges.
Instead of being shocked and outraged, we should take action to reform the interrogation process, argues a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. Specifically, he calls for major crime interrogations to be videotaped in Florida, as they are in 23 other states.
Tampa Bay state senator Jeff Brandes (R) proposed just that earlier this year. His bill garnered broad bipartisan support in the Senate, but it died in the House’s criminal justice subcommittee. Brandes plans to reintroduce the bill next session, after the election.
Brandes’s bill would require recordings only in investigations of serious crimes and primarily when a suspect is in custody. Even he describes this as a “minimal standard.”
The Sentinel’s reporter points out that an unrecorded interrogation may have played a role in the acquittal of Noor Salman, the Pulse nightclub shooter’s widow. She had allegedly confessed to knowing what her husband had planned, but the FBI didn’t record any of the 11-hour interrogation. The jury concluded that, without a video, it was simply impossible to confirm that Salman had confessed.
Yet while many Florida police departments have policies mandating the recording of interrogations, some still do not. Moreover, the Florida Police Chiefs Association continues to oppose the requirement.
Many defense attorneys believe that full recordings of everything that happens during an interrogation would provide the defense with crucial information about whether police acted lawfully, or if they coerced a confession from an innocent person. Some prosecutors want the recordings in order to stave off defense claims of illegality.
As the Sentinel reporter said, however, “the only people who don’t want recordings are people who don’t want the truth preserved.”
Whether or not videotaping interrogations is the best way forward, the Biscayne Park situation makes clear that concrete reform is urgently needed.