- Uno: Build rapport. You need to develop an atmosphere of trust with the person you are talking with. If they don’t trust you, do you really think they will tell you everything?
- Dos: Establish their baseline. Their baseline is the behavior (verbal, non-verbal, tone, physiological, etc) that they normally have during communication. This should be developed during the rapport phase while getting them comfortable talking with you. If you don’t understand their own patterns and ways they communicate, how will you identify any changes in their baseline which may need further questioning?
- Tres: Ask open questions. Most people (investigators included) are conditioned to ask closed, specific questions. Asking open questions such as “Tell me everything that happened” and let them talk without interruption, is much more effective at gathering and assessing information than closed, leading or suggestive questions. Also, probe their story with open questions such as “Tell me more about that…” “What happened next…” “You said XYZ, what do you mean?” etc.
- Cuatro: Listen. During an interview, many interviewers are so focused on their questions that when the person is answering one question, they are thinking about what they are going to ask next. This causes a lot of information to be missed by the interviewer. It also demonstrates to the person that you are talking with that you are not really interested in what they have to say. Ask open questions and really listen to what they are saying. Then ask follow-up questions based on what they said to dig deeper into their story, develop information and show that what they have to say is important and that you are listening.
- Cinco: Follow-up. Whether you are talking with a victim, witness or a suspect, follow-up on what they say and try and corroborate their information from other sources. Information from an interview or interrogation often leads to new evidence, but only if you take the time to follow up and follow through.
If you are in law enforcement, join me at the Concord Police Department in Concord, MA on June 11th and 12th, 2015, for training on "Effective Interviewing Strategies"
Conducting effective interviews is often taken for granted by a lot of investigators and their supervisors. The assumption is that since we talk to people all the time at work and in social setting, we ask questions of our family and friends, we exchange information with people in our community on a regular basis and we often communicate like this without much difficulty, so it is assumed that we already have enough skills to conduct an effective interview.
Well, do you remember the old saying about what happens when you assume?
The dynamics are different within an investigative interview and the stakes are higher, so that is not the time to assume, that's the time to perform! The key to top performance in interviewing, like with any other skill, is training. You have to know how to ask questions properly so you don't contaminate the interview, you have to know where to focus questions, what topics are important, how to expand their information, how to assess if what they are saying is truthful or not, and on and on.
The Concord Police Department in Massachusetts is hosting a course on "Effective Interviewing Strategies" on June 11th and 12th. The information in this training course will help improve police officers and investigators gather and assess information from people more effectively. Click HERE form more details on this course!
A detective who took my class on Investigative Statement Analysis sent me follow-up on one of his cases. It was a home invasion burglary attempt that was reported by a young female.
He obtained an open, free-narrative statement from her about the incident and saw that there were several indicators within her statement that caused the investigator to question her further, and upon probing, there were still concerns about the credibility of her account.
One of the questions he asked towards the end of the interview was, "Why should I believe your statement?" The detective said she answered with everything but "I'm telling you the truth” or any level of commitment. He said she stated "I would never lie", "I am not that type of person", "why would I make this up".
She eventually admitted that she made up the story about the intruder.
Often, it is very difficult for a deceptive person to say "I told the truth", "I didn't lie", "I didn't make this up" or any assertion of commitment to what they are saying. This is true only when the individual is interviewed in a non-confrontational manner. The reason for this is that if the investigator is confrontational, accuses the subject of lying or threatens them, this can "force" the individual into the corner and make it easier for them to say something like, "I didn't lie". That's why confrontational interviewing often ends up with "YOU DID IT!"..."NO I DIDN'T"..."YES YOU DID!!"..."NO I DIDN'T!!!" which is not beneficial at all for the interviewer, the investigation or in reaching the truth.
Non-confrontational interviewing such as the training that this detective attended, obtains information from people through open questions and probes their response, whether it is a written statement or an oral narrative, though careful analysis of their words and language. This leads to more clarity, fuller and more complete information, and often a revelation of the truth that was hidden within the words they used.