Video Recording of Child Interviews Spreads in Washington State

Prosecutors and police across Washington State are embracing video recording as the best way to document investigative interviews of child witnesses. This follows about a decade in which they resisted calls for such recording.

The turning point seems to have been a pilot project in 2003. Using state funds, police and prosecutors in five counties (Benton, Franklin, King, Kittitas, and Stevens) video recorded all investigative interviews that year of children younger than ten years. In each of those counties, criminal justice agencies decided at the end of the pilot project year to continue video recording with local funds.

In 2004, seven more counties (Island, Kitsap, Chelan, Douglas, Spokane, Thurston, and Walla Walla) began video recording. Pierce County now also video records. In 2005, prosecutors, child interviewers, and child advocates gathered to review the results of the pilot project. All said that video recording had improved the quality of prosecutors’ decisions whether to charge a crime. They also agreed that video recording caused more charged cases to conclude in guilty pleas, and more guilty pleas to come soon after charging. These persons, though, did not agree on whether video recording produced better fact-finding at trial.

Some believed that an interview video could divert the jury’s attention from whether the crime occurred to whether the interview technique had been sound. A consensus of these prosecution and police professionals was that video recording is not the most important ingredient in child abuse investigation. Most important, they believe, is that a full-time specialized child interviewer conduct the interviews. Second is continuing training and peer review for child interviewers (this matches findings by the Child Witness Project of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Training given by CWP researchers improved the interviewing practices of child interviewers only for the first few months after the training.) Only third in importance, according to these professionals, is video recording—and that primarily because it spurs interviewers to perform as well as they can.