But in scores of instructional memos over the last three years, the New York Police Department has been moving to standardize detective work and codify crime-solving tactics that had mostly existed as an oral tradition in the squad rooms of precinct station houses.
Some of the memos detail investigative methods, like how to surreptitiously take a DNA sample from a suspect during an interrogation or while trailing him on the street.Other memos provide only general guidance, like Memo 24 of 2011, which concerns videotaping interrogations. It authorizes detectives to use “lawful deception, deceit, trickery, etc.” when seeking a confession. And offensive language — ordinarily against department protocol — is permissible for “facilitating communication or obtaining information.”Sometimes, the instructions go further, spelling out the very words detectives must say. Memo 31 of 2011, a 61-step mini-manual on police lineups, orders detectives to ask verbatim: “Did you recognize anyone in the lineup? If so, what is the number of the person that you recognize? From where do you recognize that person?”Because witnesses frequently offer uncertain answers — “I think it is No. 3,” for example — the memo instructs detectives to avoid a basic error: asking witnesses to gauge their confidence on a scale of 1 to 10. (Anything less than a 10 invites doubt from jurors at a trial.)The memos are the handiwork of the chief of detectives, Phil T. Pulaski, who oversees some 2,200 detectives from the 13th floor of Police Headquarters, a rust-colored fortress behind the Municipal Building. While his predecessors issued occasional memos, Chief Pulaski is more prolific: he has generated some 85 step-by-step instructional memos since becoming chief in 2009.Taken together, his writings are rapidly bringing detectives under greater supervision, and changing the freewheeling culture of the detective bureau.