Interrogation Rooms

Police Capture Interviews Digitally Using Cutting Edge Interrogation Room:

City of Taylor Texas is the first police department in Williamson County to receive digital equipment for its interview room.
By Elizabeth Page.

Taylor PD a test site for new equipment
It was a homicide case in Taylor last year that inspired the Williamson County District Attorney's office to update the interview recording technology used by police departments in the county.

Taylor is the test site for the new video and audio recording equipment that was installed last fall. The camera, digital recording device, monitor and associated items were purchased and installed for a price tag of $5,000 - but not at the expense of taxpayers. "I decided that the drug dealers of Williamson County should pay for this," DA John Bradley said. Money seized in drug cases goes into an asset forfeiture fund, which Bradley has discretion to spend to assist law enforcement. The equipment was purchased through that account, he said.

The shift from the somewhat outmoded videotape to the latest digital recording equipment offers a cheaper, easier and more efficient way to document interviews that may become part of an investigation or that could be used as evidence during a trial.

"The particular case that caught my attention was when I was prosecuting the case involving Gabriel Gonzales, who had strangled his mother," Bradley said. "He was interviewed in an interrogation room at the Taylor Police Department by the sheriff's department. The sound quality was terrible. I couldn't understand half of what was being said."

Gonzales confessed to investigators that he killed his mother, Valany Gonzales, following an argument on the morning of Dec. 16, 2002 over his failure to work. He pleaded guilty to the charge on July 31, 2003, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

While the poor quality of the video tape didn't ultimately harm the case, it could have, Bradley said.

The new equipment offers improved sound and video capability, and it is easier to duplicate, view and store. The format allows the video compact disc, or VCD, to be played via a DVD player or a computer. Storing videotapes is cumbersome, Bradley said, while the VCDs are easily stored within case files, taking up much less space.

A small box houses the camera used in the interviewing room at Taylor police headquarters on South Main Street. In an adjoining room, investigators can watch the interview as it unfolds and a copy is etched onto a VCD.

"Videotape was pretty good, it just wasn't consistent," Taylor Police Chief Straub said. "This has been a really neat mechanism for us."

Straub cites the clarity of images and sounds as a plus when police must review interviews for ongoing investigations.

They also are able to put video recorded from police cars onto CDs using the equipment, Straub said. He and lead officers in the department regularly review video from traffic stops and other incidents to make sure situations are handled appropriately.

Duplicating and viewing a CD is easier than a videotape, which holds true for prosecutors and defense attorneys. And the medium is more permanent and cannot be altered.

"You get a much higher quality piece of evidence that will last longer," Bradley said.

It has been so successful that it will now be installed in other law enforcement agencies in the county. The Leander Police Department is next, according to Bradley.

"I hope to eventually install this equipment in every single department in the county, including the sheriff's office," he said.

Reprinted by permission: