Allegheny County could tape interviews with kids
Children in Allegheny County who talk with forensic interviewers about being sexually abused soon could do so on camera.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. wrote in a letter this week to the county's two child advocacy centers that he now would support the idea of videotaping those interviews they do.
The letter makes clear he will leave the decision to the directors of A Child's Place at Mercy and the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital, independent agencies that collaborate with Zappala's office to provide evidence in abuse cases.
Joan Mills, manager of A Child's Place, was thrilled to see the letter.
"More and more interviewers come out saying, 'I wish that had been preserved because that child will never say it like that again and I can't write it like that,' '' said Mills, who long has wanted to videotape interviews for court cases. "As great as our forensic interviewers are at taking down notes, you still don't see it and hear it."
Westmoreland County also uses the services of the Mercy experts.
"I would not be opposed to reviewing the issue with an eye towards allowing them to be videotaped," District Attorney John Peck said.
Peck said there is a persuasive argument to be made to have the interviews recorded: It could be beneficial for juries to see young victims tell their stories.
Jack Heneks, district attorney for Fayette County, said the county does not videotape forensic interviews of children of sexual abuse and has no plans at this time to do so.
"We don't do that with any crime victims, or with defendants, either," Heneks said. "We do not tape at this point."
Forensic interviews take place when authorities suspect someone abused a child. Interviewers ask non-leading questions to try to determine what happened and take notes on the child's responses. Money from the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the county Department of Human Services pays for forensic interviews.
Though it is standard practice nationwide to videotape such interviews, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties have not done so.
Allegheny County district attorney spokesman Mike Manko would not say why Zappala now is open to videotaping the interviews or why the office was against the practice.
"It gives the prosecutor a good look at what the child says happened closer in time to when it actually happened than if we were down the road at trial," said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "At a trial, the defense may want to challenge if there were suggestions made to the child, that type of thing, so you have a video record there to show exactly how the interview transpired."
Kevin Rua, a forensic interviewer at A Child's Place, said he gave a presentation last month to others involved in child abuse cases on the problems with relying solely on notes. He cited a 2000 study that found that in 20 recorded cases, interviewers who took notes missed 25 percent of the substantive details of the abuse.
"The best argument for videotaping is it records exactly what happens," Rua said.
Ninety percent of child advocacy centers in the country videotape forensic interviews, according to the National Children's Alliance, the accrediting body for the centers. In Pennsylvania, 14 of 21 centers videotape their interviews, and more plan to do so, according to the state chapter of the alliance.
Long said one concern could be whether the presence of a camera changes how the child might behave or how forthcoming he or she is. He said he has also heard of problems stemming from when the child discloses more details after an interview has been taped.
"Now you have the statement that's taped, but it doesn't have all the information that came out later," Long said. "That can create an issue for the prosecution."
Defense attorney David S. Shrager said he supports taping interviews because they could show inconsistencies between what was said at the interview and the child's testimony later, or whether the interviewer influenced the child's statements.
"When you deal with very young children, they can be subject so easily to suggestibility," he said. "If the questioner in a forensic interview suggests wrongdoing or suggest answers, it's very, very easy for a child to adopt that testimony through the suggestive techniques of the questioner."
Mills said she expects A Child's Place to begin planning for how to record interviews. The chief of the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital was unavailable for comment.
"We can probably move forward, but nothing happens quickly," Mills said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Hempfield man dies in single-vehicle accident
- Land costs for New Stanton turnpike interchange project reach $4.2M
- 2 Hempfield Area students charged with sexting
- Wyano woman accused of sex with 15-year-old boy
- Jeannette police say 5 people caught trespassing on grounds
- Police seek public help with East Huntingdon store thefts
- 2 Democrats battle for Hempfield nomination for supervisor
- Ligonier Valley YMCA marks start of 32,000-square-foot expansion
- 4 Democrats seek 3 nods for Latrobe council
- $3.5M glass sculpture’s story begins, ends in rural community of Dunbar