Top Tips for Choosing an Interview Room Recording System

Top Tips for Choosing an Interview Room Recording System

Interview rooms present a unique surveillance challenge for law enforcement agencies. Interview room recording systems are a crucial piece of technology that can provide law enforcement teams with the evidence they need to prosecute and convict criminals—and the quality of the interview room system can make a big difference in the success of a case.

I have over 12 years of law enforcement experience and in-depth knowledge of interview room system technology. Here are the critical areas to consider when upgrading your current interview room system or evaluating the system you already have in place.

1. Start With Your Budget

When choosing an interview room system, the first thing to do is determine the budget you are working with. Keep in mind a good quality system should come with an extended warranty and be expandable for future needs and growth.

Planning to upgrade your system every three to five years is a good idea. Most law enforcement agencies will pull this from technology budget lines and or seizure funds to make this happen. Some will go after grants (learn more about sources of funding), and others will solicit prosecutors to assist with the purchase.

2. Consider Your Cameras

Cameras are the next thing to consider in your interview room system evaluation. What types of cameras are you using now? Are they covert or overt? Covert versus overt is an often debated issue. Most of us know that there is no expectation of privacy at the police station, and many agencies feel that covert cameras are the best option for interview rooms.

If you are holding a consensual interview it is better to have a covert camera to put the suspect or subject at ease. If it is a criminal investigation of a suspect, covert options give a sense that they are not being interrogated and can foster trust between the investigator and suspect. Some law enforcement agencies believe overt cameras are fine for interviewing suspects, because they feel that the suspects being interviewed already know that they are being recorded.

Many law enforcement agencies choose an unobtrusive covert camera, such as a smoke detector to capture the evidence and image of the suspect in the interview room. A smoke detector may seem like a good idea because it blends well in the interview room. However, field of view is limited because of the ceiling placement and may not provide the evidence needed to prosecute if the suspect is wearing a hat or hoodie.

Why does this matter? A good defense attorney is going to do everything he can to get the evidence thrown out. He may pose the question, “Can you tell me with 100% confidence that this is my client, because you can’t see his face?”

To produce indisputable evidence, I recommend that you go with a covert camera (such as a wall clock or thermostat), that has a good field of view, and sits low enough in the room in order to get the detailed facial recognition needed for unquestionable evidence. Wall clocks and thermostat cameras have a good field of view, sit low enough to capture a clear image and blend in well in an interview room.

Many times a suspect will enter the room and immediately look around to see if they can locate a camera, and these types of cameras do not look out of place. Once the suspect is put at ease that there isn’t a camera in the room, they may look at the clock many times during the interview, and even glance at the thermostat providing you with the face shot needed for evidence.

Both covert and overt cameras are effective for interviewing suspects, but the choice of going covert versus overt is ultimately up to you and your department to decide.

3. Consider Your Recording Needs

Choosing an interview room system with the right recording capabilities and features is critical. All systems are not created equal and you get what you pay for—quality does matter. Start by looking at how many channels you currently have and may need in the future, how you start and stop recording, and the video format to provide the video to prosecutors. Your recording system should be able to meet and exceed all of your current needs and have the ability to expand as your needs grow over the next few years.

There are two key components to a good interview room system:

  1. Good quality audio and video synchronization on play back
  2. Easy export to a DVD or computer

The video offload capability and file format of your DVR is very important. You need a format that is usable in court. A good system will provide offloading of video in at least two formats, such as a proprietary format, AVI, or WMV (Windows Media).

When offloading video, the synchronization of audio and video is equally important, unless you want to end up with out-of-sync video that is inadmissible as evidence. Make sure that the system’s video and audio synchronization capabilities are demonstrated to you – for example, over a web meeting or via a sample video file that shows the offload sync.

4. Don’t Forget About Remote Viewing

Remote viewing is another important interview room recording consideration. Is the system capable of providing remote viewing or notifications? These features are nice to have for administrators, because they can be notified and view multiple interviews from their office simultaneously from one location.

The above considerations are a good start for evaluating or upgrading your interview room system. There are a few other factors to consider, which I will cover in another post, along with the differences in interview room systems that are currently on the market.

5. A Piece of Advice

Lastly, I’d like to offer a final piece of advice. If you are dealing with a company that values the relationship that they have with your law enforcement agency and they advise against a particular interview room system, it’s best to ask why. It is likely because they have tried the system and it does not function optimally in one capacity or another in an interview room setting.

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