Dunkirk, Westfield Police Receive Funding

DUNKIRK — Dunkirk and Westfield Police Departments are two of 28 local law enforcement agencies in 23 counties across the state that will receive a portion of $650,000 to either purchase recording equipment to conduct video interrogations or replace existing systems that are either faltering or in need of upgrade. The Dunkirk Police Department will receive $1,700 and the Westfield Police Department will receive $7,541 as part of Wednesday’s announcement.

The funding will help these agencies comply with a forthcoming law requiring law enforcement to video record interrogations for most serious crimes.

“Video recording an interrogation protects the both the innocent and law enforcement alike,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. “This funding will give prosecutors and local police agencies the resources they need to help protect their communities and create a fairer and more just criminal justice system for all.”

All 62 counties throughout the state have at least one agency capable of video recording interrogations. Since 2011, New York has provided more than $4.15 million to approximately 365 police agencies and prosecutors’ offices across the state for the purchase and installation of video-recording equipment. County district attorneys’ offices and local law enforcement agencies outside of New York City could apply for the grants, which are fully federally funded and administered by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Gov. Cuomo proposed requiring video recorded interrogations as part of a series of ground-breaking criminal justice reforms proposed in his 2017 State of the State address. The governor’s proposal required agencies to record interviews with individuals accused of serious crimes, including homicides and violent felony sex offenses. The Legislature subsequently included the new law along many other reforms proposed by the governor as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget.

Knowing the mandate was coming down the pike, Dunkirk applied for the funds to replace outdated equipment.

“We started looking into grants because we do currently have a video recording system, but it is outdated and not working,” said Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano. “So, we looked into some grants and Desk Sergeant Dan Manzella applied for a grant. I’m happy to say that we were awarded $1,700 … that will allow us to purchase a new system and upgrade our video recording system, so then we will be able to be in compliance with the new mandatory policy. We should be able to get our new system up and running for the amount we have in the grant, so it shouldn’t be at any expense to our budget. It was nice that this funding was available and hats off to Sgt. Manzella for getting the paperwork in and getting it written up so we were awarded it.”

Once the law takes effect on April 1, a failure to record interrogations in applicable cases could result in a court determining that a confession is inadmissible as evidence. The rule applies only to custodial interrogations at police stations, correctional facilities, prosecutor’s offices, and similar holding areas.

Other grant awardees in the Western New York region include, Buffalo Police Department, $39,081; Erie County District Attorney, $7,165; North Tonawanda Police Department, $6,623; and Olean Police Department, $7,398.