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Pelham Police: No Problem Recording Interviews

PELHAM, N.Y. – While Albany debates tougher interrogation standards for police, the Pelham Police Department said it’s already ahead of the game.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require police officers to videotape suspects as detectives question them, which is something Pelham Police Chief Joe Benefico said the department already does for felony cases and even some misdemeanors.

The Pelham Police Department, along with others in the county, received a grant with help from Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore that helped them purchase videotaping equipment.

“The requirement with them is “C” felonies and above have to be recorded on interviews,” said Benefico. “So we follow that and then we expand it a little. We do go beyond and then do other felonies and sometimes we’ll even do misdemeanors depending on what the case is.”

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,” New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James 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 Senate.

The bill was introduced by a Brooklyn Assembly member in January and passed by the Assembly on June 4, the same day it was introduced in the Senate. The Senate has yet to take action on it.

Benefico said it would not be an issue in Pelham for all misdemeanor and felony interviews to be recorded since the department has the proper equipment.

“It’s not an issue for us – we’re comfortable doing it,” said Benefico.  “Thank God we have the stuff. I’m glad we were able to get that in and get it in for nothing.”

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