Monday, 07 May, 2007 Technology

Digital Photos Testify Against Domestic Abusers


Digital cameras provided to the New York City police help the prosecution of domestic violence move forward. Queens became the first borough to introduce the technology. Five years ago the Queens police began taking digital photos of victims who suffered from domestic violence. As a result, prosecutors have noticed a considerable growth in conviction rates.

Digital cameras capture minor details often missed by Polaroids, and the human eye. Digital photos depict for example cuts on an outstretched hand or bruises that are difficult to notice on the dark complexion skin. When specialists magnify the pictures, there appear other wounds, like tiny cuts and broken capillaries.

By computer, police officers are able to transmit the pictures immediately to a database used by prosecutors of the city. When they used to take Polaroid photos, prosecutors subpoenaed a police officer to bring pictures to their office – and the entire process could last for days.

With digital cameras, prosecutors can at once assess uploaded photos, grasp the gravity of the wounds and then decide how to pursue a case. The digital pictures are also available when a defendant first appears in court. It is crucially important in domestic violence cases. It helps the judge take a serious decision of setting bail instead of letting the person go home where violence may continue.

In Queens, it has been estimated that when the police take digital photos, bail is set in almost a third of all domestic violence cases. When photos are not provided, the figure diminishes to 14 percent -that means the rest of defendants are released home. The photos elicit acute visceral reaction. It is one thing when the judge just hears the descriptions of the victim's injuries and a totally different thing when he sees with his own eyes photos of a human being with all the blood, swelling and bruising. Even when victims refuse to testify, digital photos of abuse support prosecutors and the defendants get just punishment.

Many police departments in the U.S., including in Los Angeles and Miami, have started using digital cameras in their everyday work. Other departments have not yet managed to embrace the technology, often because they are not provided with the money to acquire the equipment and organize an online database.

Police officers need time to get accustomed to using digital cameras and practice in taking good photos. Still, New York New York officers are gradually catching up with those from Queens. At present day New York police are taking digital photos in about 50 % of the domestic violence cases. Just three months ago they were applied in just 20 % of the cases.

Victims of domestic abuse cases often feel reluctant to go to a precinct house because they are fearful or ashamed. However, they agree to have their pictures taken. Photos with the scene of abuse provide a fuller picture as they show broken furniture, blood on the floor or walls, and so on.

The majority of domestic violence victims prefer to keep silence and do not report about the abuse. Those who do, often minimize or change their initial statements. The detailed pictures as well as what the victim reports to the police officer just after the crime, greatly supports a prosecutor's case.

Some experts criticize trials proceeding without the victim 's agreement as they believe it makes them more vulnerable to further violence, especially when they share the place with their abusers. But there is also another opinion - 'victimless' trials make offenders realize that in any case they will not escape justice and will have to face legal consequences.

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