Police untrained for taped interviews

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is continuing to rely on written notes of police interviews because only a handful of officers are trained to use tape recorders.

The revelation was aired during the Brian Rankine-Carter murder trial, after defence attorneys slammed the practice, calling into question the reliability of handwritten notes of interviews with Jason Hinds, who was originally a suspect in the murder.

Defence attorney Mark Tomassi accused police of a double standard for recording their interview with the defendant, William McLaughlin-Martinez, but for writing down what happened in almost 23-hours of interviews with Hinds.

Mr. Tomassi complained notes of the interview were taken down by a police officer that Hinds knew from his Jamaican hometown, at times without any other witnesses present.

Mr. Tomassi said tape recording would have given the court an ‘unassailable record’ of what had transpired, but the written account left too many questions unanswered.

The officer, Detective Sergeant Joseph Wright, said like most officers in the RCIPS, he is not trained to tape record interviews. He predicted as few as five officers in the force are trained to use tape recorders.

Sgt. Wright said he did nothing wrong and insisted that there was nothing irregular about his interview with Hinds.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Kennett confirmed to the court that only a handful of officers are trained to use tape recorders, although he said there have been long standing plans for the RCIPS to switch over to tape recorded interviews.

He said the police service has brought the necessary tape recording equipment, but a two-day training course for officers has had to be cancelled four times this year because of major crime incidents.

He said the training involves training in securely unsealing and sealing tapes, as well as securely filing and storing them. The course also involves training in interview techniques, he said.

Mr. Kennett later told the Caymanian Compass that Solicitor General Cheryll Richards has agreed to utilise a crown counsel to assist in the training of officers when a new date for training becomes available.

Mr. Kennett explained why the RCIPS had not decided to go one step further and introduce video-taped interviews:

‘The taped interview is the preferred choice of the majority of UK police forces. Whilst there are other jurisdictions world-wide that use video interviewing, they are not subject to the constraints of the British legal system which we are obliged to follow,’ he said.

‘With full video interviews, there are often problems with transcribing the interview and it is extremely rare for the video to actually be played in a British court.

‘The Legal Department and the Bar Association of Cayman fully support the introduction of the tape recorded interview and a protocol has been agreed with the Solicitor General as to policy and procedure,’ Mr. Kennett added.