New video equipment sought

JOHNSTOWN — Law enforcement agencies in Fulton County will be installing new video recording to replace equipment used to conduct video interrogations with funds from a state grant intended to help law enforcement agencies comply with a new state law.

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to accept a $64,406 grant from the state Department of Criminal Justice Services awarded to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for purchase of the state mandated equipment.

Of the grant award, the board approved appropriations of $28,740 to fully fund the purchase and installation of new video recording equipment in the interview rooms at four local agencies.

The video equipment will replace or upgrade equipment used at the Gloversville Police Department at a cost of $7,429, Johnstown Police Department for $3,963, Fulton County Sheriff’s Department for $11,899 and the Child Advocacy Unit for $5,449.

The county maintains the Child Advocacy Unit in Johnstown and authorities use video equipment there to record victims of sexual abuse.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the award of more than $650,000 in grants in January to help 28 local law enforcement agencies in 23 counties across the state comply with a state law requiring video recorded interrogations that went into effect on April 1.

“Video recording an interrogation protects both the innocent and law enforcement alike,” Cuomo stated in a 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.”

Cuomo proposed requiring video recorded interrogations of individuals accused of most serious non-drug felonies in his 2017 State of the State address as part of a series of criminal justice reforms. The state Legislature included the requirement in a change to the Criminal Procedure Law adopted in the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget.

Failure to record interrogations in applicable cases could result in a court ruling a confession inadmissible as evidence. The law applies only to custodial interrogations at police stations, correctional facilities, prosecutor’s offices and similar holding areas.

The state Municipal Police Training Council issued a model policy outlining how to properly record custodial interrogations in anticipation of the law.

Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown said Wednesday that the equipment currently in use at each of the four agencies is compliant with the new law, however the grant will allow the three police departments to come into compliance with the state Raise the Age Law that will take effect on Oct. 1.

The legislation signed into law by Cuomo on April 10 will raise the age of criminal responsibility in the state from 16-to 18-years-old. The new measures will be phased in over time raising the age of juvenile delinquency from 16 to 17 as of Oct. 1, 2018 and raising the age again to 18 as of Oct. 1, 2019.

Under the law young people aged 16 and 17 will no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities or jails and questioning of youths will be required to take place in age-appropriate settings with parental involvement.

The state grant will allow the three police agencies to add an interrogation room beyond what they already have to meet the requirements of the law.

“It’s not a matter of equipment being insufficient,” Brown said. “It’s a matter of not having enough equipment.”

While the cost of purchasing and installing the new equipment leaves about $35,000 remaining from the grant, Brown said that the remaining funds are designated by the state solely for the purchase of video recording equipment and those needs for all of the eligible agencies in the county will be fully satisfied.

Brown explained that when preparing the grant application in October it was necessary to provide two to three price quotes for equipment and installation. A range of prices were provided to the state with the highest price being approved in the grant.

“Thankfully we got approved for the highest end so it gave us a little bit of leeway,” Brown said.

When the county reviewed the project, Brown said they selected the least expensive option and the total cost came in lower than estimated due in part to the fact that some equipment only requires upgrading.

Although the project will cost less than anticipated, Brown said the county will not need to return grant money to the state as the award funds are intended to reimburse completed work rather than being given upfront.