Counties to upgrade video equipment

New law requires video-recorded interrogations

JOHNSTOWN — Law enforcement agencies in Fulton and Montgomery counties are receiving more than $65,000 worth of federal money to purchase recording equipment to conduct video interrogations.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday announced more than $650,000 in grants to help 28 local law enforcement agencies in 23 counties across the state.

The office of Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown will receive $64,406.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is receiving $3,060.

“I did get the grant recently,” Brown said Thursday. “We applied in the fall.”

The district attorney said the grant is to purchase recording equipment to conduct video interrogations or replace existing systems that are either faltering or in need of upgrade.

“Specifically, it’s targeting the interviewing and recording of statements,” Brown said.

Brown said the video equipment will replace equipment used at the Gloversville Police Department, Johnstown Police Department, Fulton County Sheriff’s Department and the Child Advocacy Unit the county maintains in Johnstown. The unit is where victims of sexual abuse are videotaped by authorities.

Authorities say properly video-recorded interrogations can ensure the reliability of evidence that is later presented at trial. Video recorded interrogations are also an effective measure to prevent false confessions under coercion, law enforcement officials say.

A news release issued by Cuomo indicates the funding will help agencies — including 14 recipients that had not previously received the grant — comply with an upcoming law requiring law enforcement to video record interrogations for most serious crimes.

“Video recording an interrogation protects both the innocent and law enforcement alike,” Cuomo stated in the release. “This funding will give prosecutors and local police agencies the resources they need to help protect their communities and create a fairer and more just criminal justice system for all.”

All 62 counties throughout the state have at least one agency capable of video recording interrogations, the release said. Since 2011, New York has provided more than $4.15 million to approximately 365 police agencies and prosecutors’ offices across the state for the purchase and installation of video-recording equipment. County district attorneys’ offices and local law enforcement agencies outside of New York City could apply for the grants, which are fully federally funded and administered by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Cuomo proposed requiring video recorded interrogations as part of a series of “ground-breaking” criminal justice reforms proposed in his 2017 State of the State address, the release said. The governor’s proposal required agencies to record interviews with individuals accused of serious crimes, including homicides and violent felony sex offenses. The state Legislature subsequently included the new law along many other reforms proposed by Cuomo as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget.

Once the law takes effect on April 1, a failure to record interrogations in applicable cases could result in a court determining that a confession is inadmissible as evidence. The rule applies only to custodial interrogations at police stations, correctional facilities, prosecutor’s offices, and similar holding areas.

In anticipation of the law going into effect, the New York State Municipal Police Training Council issued a model policy outlining how law enforcement agencies should properly record custodial interrogations. The Council, with its members appointed by the Governor, designs and approves model policies to help guide law enforcement agencies. The Office of Public Safety at the Division of Criminal Justice Services staffs the council and assists with developing model policies.

DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Green stated in the release, “As someone who has prosecuted hundreds of cases, including cases with videotaped interrogations, I have seen firsthand the importance of a video-recorded interrogation. This footage can provide the best evidence to prove guilt or to exonerate someone who is innocent. This funding will further enhance the integrity of our criminal justice process by giving prosecutors and local law enforcement agencies the equipment they need to adequately video record interrogations.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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