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.
Even if you are not Irish, a little luck falls upon most people every now and then. Although I firmly believe that hard work trumps luck any day of the week, we all appreciate a nice break once in a while! Just make sure you don't live your life relying on luck to get by, or you may find yourself hanging out in casinos and investing in lottery tickets and scratch-off games, or maybe believing that you do have a long-lost Nigerian relative who is a prince and wants to leave you $350,000,000 million dollars! (By the way, if you believe you have a rich Nigerian Prince as a relative, I have a bridge I would like to sell you, click here)
One place you should never rely on luck is in the interview room. As a professional interviewer you should not "wing-it" when it comes to gathering information from a victims, witnesses or suspects. Rather than luck, you need a solid foundation of training that is supported by academic research. However, your training doesn't end there. You should spend time reading, researching, studying and taking training courses to constantly develop your skills and techniques surrounding interviewing and interrogation, detecting deception, memory, communication, personality assessment, interpersonal relations, public speaking, emotions and emotion recognition, and on and on. Anything that can give you an edge and bring up your skills should be on your radar and scheduled into your calendar. When you look at a professional athlete, whether in baseball, basketball, football, hockey or any other sport, they aren't lucky to be on top of their game, they spent a lot of time practicing, training and preparing. Luck had little if anything to do with it. As the say goes, luck favors the prepared mind! So prepare!
I read an article in an FBI Bulletin on "Intuitive Policing: Emotional/Rational Decision Making in Law Enforcement." The authors discuss instances where police officers act or react to a situation without knowing exactly why they did what they did, but in hindsight their actions were accurate. They provided an example of an officer doing a buy-bust operation for narcotics sales on the street and how the officer identified a particular individual as having a gun, without seeing one or having information he was carrying one. He just felt he was carrying a gun and was unable to articulate why he felt that way until after the incident while writing his report. Subtle details such as the individual had a long sleeve shirt pulled out over his pants on a very warm day, he got up from the curb and adjusted his waistband, and he turned away from the officer and began walking away and grabbed the right side of his waistband as if securing some object. These observations were made so rapidly the officer was not able to say exactly what he saw, only state his conclusion that the individual was carrying a gun, which was correct...he had a .357 revolver in his waistband. After the stress of the incident was over, thinking back on the incident he was able to accurately recall details which led him to his belief the guy was carrying a weapon. It was a pre-conscious recognition of danger, and the authors discuss on a neurological level how this occurs. In my experience, this occurs in assessments of veracity as well, such as in situations where an officer hears a story from an individual or reads a victims statement and has this intuitive feeling that something is wrong. They may not know why they feel that way, but they know that something is just not right with this story or statement. Investigative Statement Analysis brings to light WHY the officer or investigator feels that way, and through training they can effectively identify and address it.