Olympus Teams Up With Brooklyn D.A.'s Office
Unique Collaboration Will Help Document Violence
by Dan Havlik
Until recently one of the few weapons police had in their arsenal to fight the pervasive problem of domestic abuse, was the Polaroid instant camera. When a report of domestic violence would come in, investigators would arrive on the scene armed with a Polaroid to photograph the bruises, abrasions and other signs of abuse on a victim's face and body. Those images, along with the victim's testimony, would later be used as evidence in a trial against the alleged batterer.
But considering the personal dilemmas that can surface in cases of domestic abuseincluding the fact that the abuser is usually a spouse or family membervictims of domestic violence are often reluctant to testify against their attackers. Consequently, oftentimes the only evidence available in cases of domestic abuse are those initial Polaroid photos. And as anyone who's ever looked at a Polaroid knows, while instant photos may be fine for parties and other casual events, they're not exactly suited for capturing the precise detail needed to prosecute a crime as complex as domestic abuse.
Enter digital photography, and in the case of a unique collaboration between an imaging manufacturer and one of New York City's leading prosecutorsenter Olympus America and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Digital Images Provide Hard Evidence in Abuse Cases
While most law enforcement agencies in the country still rely on instant photography to document incidents of abuse, Olympus and the Brooklyn D.A.'s office have taken another step in changing that with a new digital photography pilot program launched in October to coincide with Domestic Violence Prevention Month. As part of the program, Olympus has donated eight digital cameras and six printers to the D.A.'s office to help track and better prosecute domestic abuse crimes.Elizabeth Sullivan, director of public relations for Olympus, at a recent press conference announcing the donation of Olympus digital cameras and printers to the Brooklyn D.A.'s office.
"Our office receives more than 10,000 domestic violence cases annually," said District Attorney Hynes at a recent press conference. "Trying these sensitive cases without hard evidence is a prosecutors constant challenge. Olympus' donation of digital cameras and printers will help prosecute these cases by allowing the early gathering of images that may be used as evidence."
The digital cameras donated by Olympus are the popular D-550 Zoom model, a 3-megapixel consumer camera with a 2.8x optical zoom. Olympus also donated Camedia P-200 Digital Color printers to the D.A.'s office.
Two of the eight cameras will be used by detectives in the D.A.'s office and the others will be used by emergency rooms at area hospitals to photograph abuse victims soon after they're admitted, said Wanda Lucibello, the District Attorney's Chief of the Special Victims Division.
Lucibello noted that having a clear digital image of the injuries takes the onus off the victim who is often unwilling to testify against their abuser.
"It's very difficult for victims to feel like they're ready to participate in a domestic abuse prosecution," Lucibello told PTN. "While the victim really wants the violence to stop, sometimes the only way for the prosecutor to get any leverage over the violator is to get evidence, and having a really good picture of the injuries provides that evidence."
However, in an instant photo, a victim's injuries are often so blurry they resemble "unidentified flying objects," Lucibello said, making the pictures virtually useless as evidence in a court of law.
"You can say to a judge that a victim had a black eye, but unless you can show it, it often translates as she had a 'boo-boo.' It's really much more effective when you can display the image clearly in a courtroom. With a digital image, it makes an enormous difference."
Deputizing Emergency Room Staff
In the last two years the D.A.'s office has been using digital photography, the conviction rate has soared to 83% in misdemeanor domestic violence trials and 90% in felony domestic violence trials. That rate is expected to rise even more with the introduction of the new digital cameras and with the recent admissibility ruling on digital 911 calls, which together will help speed the prosecution process.
"The evidence in these cases will stand on their own, rather than having it rest solely on the testimony of the victim," she said.
Lucibello cited a recent "elder abuse" case in Brooklyn in which an adult child punched his elderly mother in the eye. "The victim was loath to bring a case against her son. This was his first arrest. Without those photos of the injury, how could we put that case on trial? By the time the trial came around the woman looked fine and she told the judge that it didn't really happen with a punch, she just fell. But the (digital) picture demonstrated that it couldn't have happened with a fall. It had to be a punch."