In the first six months of using digital cameras to document domestic violence, Queens, New York saw domestic violence convictions rise nearly 10%. Following Queens’ lead, the NYPD has decided to expand its use of digital cameras throughout the department, starting with Brooklyn next month. The technology is being heralded as a swifter, more accurate means of documenting visible signs of abuse, like cuts, bruises, swelling and handprints. Most police departments use Polaroid shots to show signs of violence, which often produce blurry images that fail to illuminate the extent of the injuries. These snapshots are critically important, and often the only evidence a prosecutor has to prove abuse, especially when wounds have had time to heal or a victim chooses not cooperate.
Digital photography also dramatically increases the speed at which evidence is produced. Photographs may be transmitted via computer to a judge before an accuser is even arraigned, while standard snapshots usually take days, or even weeks, to be processed. “This is a major, major change,” said Robyn Mazur, associate director of domestic violence programs at the Center for Court Innovation. “By having these pictures instantaneously go directly to the key players, cases can potentially move much faster in those very early precious days.” However, critics of this use of digital photography are concerned the technology gives prosecutors greater license to prosecute offenders against a victim’s wishes and may send victims underground. There is also concern about the ease at which the photographs may be doctored, enhanced or manipulated via computer. “There are serious concerns,” NY Deputy Attorney Susan L. Hendricks told the Times. “I think that given the ability to manipulate them, the courts are going to have to be careful, or they should be.”
According to the Center for Court Innovation, New York will be the first major city to adopt the technology throughout its police department, which handles about 90,000 domestic violence programs annually.