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Listening in: Results From a CMC Audit of Police Interview Tapes

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2004
46 pages
This report presents findings of the second audit of police interview tapes of the Queensland Police Service (QPS) involving people suspected of having committed indictable offenses.
In August 1998, the Criminal Justice Commission (CMC) conducted the first audit of police interview tapes following the introduction of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 1997, which significantly changed the legal requirements for questioning suspects. This analysis reports on police compliance with legislative and procedural requirements relating to: interview status; suspect cautioning and explanation of rights; right to the presence of a friend or relative and lawyer; safeguards for special needs groups; right to an interpreter; suspension of interview and delays; and threats, inducements, or promises by police. The audit duplicated, as closely as possible, the methodology used in the first tapes audit. The sample consisted of 125 randomly selected tapes of interviews conducted during the period August 3 to August 9, 2001. Data collected from these tapes included place of interview, time of interview, length of interview, number of officers present at the interview, work area of the interviewing officer, characteristics of the suspects, and types of offenses. Key findings from the audit are presented and include: most of the interviews occurred in a police establishment with the average length of interview being 24 minutes, 8 seconds; 54 percent of the interviews were conducted with two officers, and more than three-quarters of the interviewing officers were male; the majority of suspects interviewed were male, with the largest proportion aged 20 to 29 years; and the most common types of offenses for which suspects were questioned were property offenses. Results of the audit indicate a clear improvement in some areas relating to the questioning of suspects of indictable offenses. However, a corresponding improvement in relation to some of the more important rights of suspects was not observed. These include: cautioning -- right to silence; right to a friend/relative and lawyer; safeguards for special needs groups; safeguards for Indigenous suspects; and threats, inducements, and promises. In these areas there was scant evidence of improvement, and in some cases a decline in the rate of police compliance, leading the researchers to believe that, in some circumstances, interviewing officers may have become complacent in the performance of their mandatory responsibilities. These findings from the 2001 audit indicate that audits of taped records of interviews should be conducted at regular intervals to ensure continued compliance with the legislative requirements. 14 table, 6 figures, and 6 endnotes