Importance of Keeping an Open Mind

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We all know the excitement and the feeling of a difficult case coming together. You may have started out with a "who dunnit" and now you are at the point of "I think YOU dunnit!" Evidence has been collected and is being processed, witnesses have provided valuable information, circumstances are pointing you in the direction of Mr. Suspect, and now you have been assigned to question Mr. Suspect about his involvement in this caper.

As you proceed with the interview...keep an open mind. If you go into an interview with the belief that the person is guilty or with the intent to gain a confession or with the thought that the person is going to lie about their involvement, anything the person does or says will be filtered through that belief system, and whatever does not align with it will be discarded or not even perceived! You will look for and find only the things that line up with your belief in the person's guilt, which means you will miss other information the person may be telling you.

The goal in an investigative interview or criminal interrogation is to find the truth, period. By keeping an open mind you are staying open to all of the possibilities, and through your persistent and strategic questioning, those other possibilities will likely be getting eliminated, leading you in the proper direction and case resolution. It is important to take everything into consideration and let the interview and the resulting information lead you to the proper conclusion, not you lead the interview to the conclusion you believe to be correct. Keep an open mind.

I've always tried to tell the truth...

Liars have a difficult time saying "I told the truth" or "I didn't lie." Lying is a deliberate attempt to deceive someone. If somebody didn't lie and they are questioned about it, they can easily say "I didn't lie" or if they are asked if they told the truth, they can easily say "Yes." However, when Hillary Clinton is asked "Have you always told the truth" she responds, "I've always tried to." What does that mean, 'tried'? Tried means attempted but failed, such as "I tried to mow the lawn but it started to rain", or "I tried to deposit money in the account, but the bank was closed." In other words, what you tried to do didn't happen. So we have to question why Mrs. Clinton cannot simply say "Yes." She also says, "I've always tried to, always, always." When she says that, she shrugs her shoulders, which is a sign of uncertainty, and also shakes her head "no" subtly which contradicts what she is saying. Pressed further by the interviewer, she says "I don't believe I ever have, I don't believe I ever will." Again, each time she shrugs her shoulder in uncertainty and her language reflects uncertainty as well. As investigative interviewers, and as I teach in my training courses, our goal is to get the truth. When we see evasive language or conflicting verbal/non-verbal behavior, those are flags for the interviewer that something in not right, and that is the area to dig into during the interview.  

Interview-Interrogation Mindset Change


One of the major aspects of training police officers when it comes to conducting interviews and interrogations is addressing and altering their mindset prior to conducting an interview or interrogation. Within the police culture, and particularity within the United States, the mindset of an officer heading into an interrogation with a suspect is often that of getting a confession from the individual. At first glance, people may think..."Well, yeah. Isn't that their job? And also, doesn't Jack Bauer on the television show "24" do that all the time?" Yes he does, but that does not work in real life. Innocent people have falsely confessed to crimes they didn't commit for one reason or another. The main goal of an interview or interrogation, or simply investigative interviewing, is to gather information about the incident under investigation. Whether an investigator talks with a victim, witness, informant or suspect, the goal is to gather as much information from that individual as they have. The second goal is to assess the information for veracity, or truthfulness. Looking at the definition of "mindset" above, if the goal of an investigator is to get a confession, the underlying assumption is one of guilt. The investigators actions and questions will be influenced by that belief and directed towards that goal, and their understanding and feedback of the individual during the interrogation will be filtered through that mindset as well. However, if the mindset shifts to that of believing the person and gathering as much information from them as possible, while still understanding that people can and do lie, the questions the investigator will ask will be directed towards that goal of gathering information, and the information and feedback from the individual will reflect that as well. This concept and the investigative mindset is expanded upon within BELIEF Interviewing training. Click the link to BELIEF Interviewing to learn a little more about this concept. It is true in life as it is within the context of investigative interviewing, that your beliefs will effect your actions, which will effect your results!

The Brain Map of Words

Interesting research has shown how various words are processed in different parts of the brain. With tens of thousands of words known by the average person, each are grouped and processed differently by the person’s brain. Consider the impact of this within the context of investigative interviewing and criminal interrogation. When you probe a person’s account of an event, they are drawing the words from various parts of their brain to accurately relate information to you about the event under investigation. If they are truthful, they are relying on their memory of the event and chose the words accordingly. If they decide to lie to you because they are guilty of the crime under investigation, they still have the memory of the event and know the truthful narrative of what happened, but they have to choose different words and create a different, fabricated story, or skip over information all together. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the words people use. Often, when someone is not telling the truth, information is leaked into their narrative that they don’t want you to know, if you know what to look for. This video and the supporting research clearly shows the complexity of the human brain when it comes to language and its importance within investigative interviews and criminal interrogations. 


Confronting your Best Friend



If your best friend is not himself or herself, you know it. They behave differently. They may be more quiet than usual, or they may be more hyper than usual. They may not hold a conversation very well, and they may seem somewhat distracted. They are just off...not themselves. You know this because you know them and understand them and how they normally behave. This normal behavior is their baseline, and you picked up that something is wrong. If you asked him, "Hey Joe, so seem a little off today, a little down. Is everything alright?" If Joe says, after a long pause and a stress-relieving sigh, "Yeah, everything's fine." You know Joe is not fine, and Joe actually lied to you about how he is truly feeling. So, what do you do? How would you respond to Joe? Do you confront him and yell, "Listen Joe, I know you are not fine so stop jerking me around and tell me the truth!" If Joe then starts talking and telling you again that everything's fine, do you stop him from talking and put your hand up and say, "I don't want to hear that Joe, I KNOW you are not fine, so don't feed me any of your bull!" Of course not. We wouldn't do that because how would Joe respond? He would likely stop talking or walk away and not want to be around you anymore. Your response would more likely be that you take Joe aside into a quiet place and let him know you can see something is wrong and you would like to talk with him about it. If he started saying he was fine, you would listen and ask questions. You would be compassionate, listen well, connect with him and let him know you care about him. With that approach, Joe would be more likely to talk with you and tell you the truth about what's bothering him. You wouldn't yell at him, stop him from talking, accuse him of lying, etc. So, why do so many police officers still interview in a confrontational manner? Rapport-based narrative interviewing is much more effective at obtaining truthful information from people, and many countries and police forces have prohibited aggressive, accusatory tactics within investigative interviews and criminal interrogations. The good news is that my travels and training throughout the country, I see the tide shifting to the more effective narrative-based interview which is a welcome change!


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