Philly police change policies on interrogation, mugshots

     (Matt Rourke/AP Photo, file)

    (Matt Rourke/AP Photo, file)

    Philadelphia police officers are making major changes in the way they interrogate suspects and present mugshots.

    The modifications, which have been campaigned for by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, could benefit prosecutors and defendants alike.

    Starting next month, Philadelphia police will begin videotaping all interrogations in homicide cases, which is standard procedure in many other U.S. police departments. Defense attorneys said recordings will help determine whether police coerced confessions.

    Jerry Ratcliffe, chairman of Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice, said the tapes will also increase convictions.

    “It allows juries to see the often evasive and duplicitous actions of offenders when they’re interviewed,” he said. “They’ll say one thing in an interview with the police, and then they change their story completely in court.”

    Under a policy taking effect Jan. 1, police are also being told not to hold suspects for more than 36 hours if they have not been charged with a crime. And Capt. Francis Healy said the police department is enshrining into writing a current policy that detectives must remind witnesses that they can leave at any time during interviews.

    “We all swear to uphold and defend the United States Constitution,” he said. “Well, it means something to a lot of people in this department.”

    Under another initiative, the police department is planning to alter the way it shows mug shots after it receives additional input from the district attorney’s office. Starting early next year, a detective who is not assigned to the case will present photos to potential witnesses. This is designed to avoid leading witnesses to identify a certain suspect.

    “What we’ve shown through studies is when the witness is looking at the suspect, the person who knows who [the suspect] is might lean in a little bit further, or maybe they start breathing a little bit quicker,” said Marissa Bluestine, legal director for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. “That cues the witness, ‘Oh, this must be the right one.'”

    In hopes of making more accurate identifications, detectives also will begin showing mug shots one by one instead of in an array.

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