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October 2002: Law Enforcement Technology
For years detectives with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department have had to make do with standard recording devices when taping statements or confessions.
"I've accumulated scores of tapes and sometimes didn't log them correctly or couldn't find them on short notice," says Det. Robert Johnson, who is based in Vista, California, about 35 miles north of downtown San Diego. "It was an often cumbersome way to store key pieces of information."
A new digital telephone recording solution is helping Johnson and his colleagues at two other sheriff's departments in Imperial Beach and Poway to not only improve recording quality, but also productivity and information access.
Known as Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement, the product from San Diego-based Konexx is installed on an individual PC or notebook. The software is compatible with any Microsoft Windows operating system.
A Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement interface (3 inches by 1.3 inch by 1 inch and 1.5 ounces) connects a telephone handset to a computer sound card, allowing the sheriff's department to record telephone conversations directly to compressed .wav files that can be e-mailed as attachments or archived for future reference. Recorded files can be stored on the sheriff's department's local hard drive or network servers. One hour of recording time equals about 7.2 MB. Just like Word or Excel files, conversations can be saved in folders and directories.
An automatic gain control circuit ensures that conversations are recorded clearly. Recordings can be easily annotated with the officers' comments either at the beginning or end of the original recording. To ensure security, a digital voice stamp is placed at the beginning and end of the original recording. Users can select on-demand or voice-activated recording too.
Det. Bill Giltner, based in Imperial Beach, recently used Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement to assist him in a sexual assault case. A young girl was allegedly assaulted by her mother's boyfriend.
"The suspect didn't give us anything over the phone, but by using the statements recorded with Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement from the young girl, I was able to bookmark important points of her conversation and used this to have her call back the boyfriend so he could make potentially incriminating statements on the phone to her while we listened," Giltner says. "It's an effective tool especially when you have lengthy interviews. It alleviates note taking, and I can add annotations at the beginning or end of a recorded file."
Johnson adds that he used Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement to take a suspect's statement over the phone. The suspect allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail at his in-laws' house trying to burn it down. Fortunately the bomb didn't ignite and no one was hurt, but the intent was there.
"The suspect initially tried to blame someone else, and when he later took a polygraph, he tried changing his story again," Johnson says. "What would have been a probable 'he said, she said' type of case instead went forward for prosecution because I had the proof right on my computer."
Johnson also used Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement during an indecent exposure case that had 11 different victims. There were numerous victim interviews taken with very similar, but slightly different suspect descriptions, Johnson says, and without the product, "I would have been confused as to what victim gave me what suspect description.
"It helped me file the charges faster because I could more accurately write up the statements," he says. "I could collate information much better. In one example, a woman came in a month after giving her initial statement to me for a photo lineup. I was able to instantly play back to the key portions of her own statement, which helped refresh her memory because she had trouble remembering details from her initial statement. She was then able to identify the individual responsible for the crime, and subsequently picked him out of the photo lineup."
Det. Al Hudson, who works out of the Poway office, says he anticipates using the product to help ensure the accuracy of testimonies in sex crimes.
"It will allow us to do controlled phone calls in instances where we may have a minimum amount of evidence," Hudson says. "We'll be able to put the victims in touch with the suspect, which can be very helpful since in many of these cases the suspect initially won't talk to the police but may want to boast about what he has done or may do and thus make incriminating remarks."
"It's a great organizational tool because I can better organize my caseload into folders or directories on my PC," Johnson adds. "I can instantly play back important conversations and can also use the auto file naming feature so I can save files with fixed prefixes and the date and time."
Giltner says he eventually wants to have multiple Phone 2 PC-Law Enforcement products available to facilitate with other sheriff's department functions — one for patrol deputies, one for traffic officers when they're conducting traffic collisions and drunk driving investigations, and a third unit that could be attached to a laptop for when detectives need to conduct phone interviews from the field.
All three detectives say Phone 2 PC helps them share necessary information with their colleagues since they can e-mail conversations or even portions of conversations as attachments. They indicated they will soon use it to e-mail conversations to the district attorney for instant review and also record conversations for training purposes.
Return to: 2002 Feature Stories