The Power of Silence During Investigative Interviews

Missing person! Abduction! Headlines in a small town that a young, attractive female went missing during her routine jog in the area caused fear amongst the citizens. The young females husband reported that he brought their two young children on errands in the morning while his wife went for a jog, but when he returned home, she was nowhere to be found. After making phone calls to family and friends, the distraught husband called the police and a massive investigation was underway.

Numerous agencies were involved, roadblocks were set up and the police were questioning everyone in the area. The husband provided a written statement surrounding the events and was then questioned in detail by me and my partner. His statement as well as his responses and demeanor during the interview brought suspicion that more happened than he initially reported and that he was holding back information. After a couple hours of questioning he stated he was tired and wanted to go to bed. With nothing to hold him on, the interview was ended for the night, but the investigators worked throughout the night.

The next morning I checked on the husband, maintaining rapport, and letting him know that there were some issues we were concerned with regarding his statement and his responses during the interview. He stated that he had nothing to hide and was not holding back any information and elected to take a polygraph test. The polygraph was arranged for the following morning. My partner and I picked him up in the morning the next day, along with his father who he wanted to have with him, even though the husband was in his late 20's. It was approximately a 45 minute ride to the polygraph office during which there was a lot of small-talk and rapport building.

The husband took the polygraph test and ultimately failed. He was then questioned in the "accusatory style" of polygraphers and adamantly stated he was not lying and that he had nothing to do with his wife being missing. He peeled off his attachments to the polygraph machine and stormed out the door. I had excellent rapport with the husband and asked him if he would be willing to talk with me further about this test and why he failed the polygraph. He agreed and he was questioned further in the presence of his father. Ultimately, more information was gained and a clearer picture developed that much more occurred than he claimed, but he stated he wanted to end the interview and go home. Still, with nothing solid to go on we started that 45 minute drive back to his house.

Upon arrival at their house, his father got out and asked his son if he was going to come in. He stated he wanted to stay in the car a few minutes and his father went inside their house. No music was on in the car, no police radio was on, nobody said a word for about 10 to 15 minutes until the silence was broken by the suspect who stated..."Wes, what if it was an accident?" My response..."Well then we just need to know what happened." That was the beginning of a complete confessions which led to the body of his wife in a neighboring state and his ultimate conviction in court for killing her.

The power of silence...having the discipline to plant the seeds and stay quiet until they germinate is powerful during criminal interrogations. It is also powerful during investigative interviews with victims and witnesses. Ask an open ended question such as, "Tell me everything that happened..." and let them talk without interruption. When the come to what appears to be the end of their initial narrative, wait, look at them expectantly and more often than not additional details and information will come forward without you saying another word.

Until next time, stay safe, and when appropriate, stay silent!

Taking Written Statement: Best Practice

While scanning through some online communities of law enforcement officers I came upon a discussion about taking statements from people, specifically if the officers had the individuals write out their own statements or if the officer wrote it out for them. I was surprised at some of the responses, to say the least.

One response was, "I take the statement, I write the statement (well, type it) and they sign the statement. I am sure to write it using their words but by writing it myself it goes in chronological order and I am sure to cover all the points required. This is standard operating procedure over here." This is often the SOP for many police officers, but unfortunately it is not the best practice. There may be a reason why the individual did not make the account in a chronological order. Often, what is important to the individual goes down on paper first. If we write the statement in the order we think it should go, we can lose potentially valuable information and insight. Also, by trying to get "all the points required" is a different focus than getting all the information the individual has, and assess what's important to him/her.

Another response was, "I usually do a question and answer which I type out, then, while I start on the other paperwork, I give the subject a legal pad and get him to write out a statement in his own words." We are getting better by having the subject write out their own statement in their own words, but by doing a question and answer before taking the statement you will inevitably influence the content of the statement. In effect, it will not be "in his own words" as hoped, but it will be a product, or by-product, of the question and answer session beforehand.

One officer stated, "I always write (or even better, type) statements [sic] myself. I hate audio-taped statements. Not only do they take me twice as long to transcribe as they would have to type in the first place, but due to mumbling, phones ringing, radios squawking [sic], people walking through, prisoners yelling etc. there's always sections of the tape that can't be made out. I'll admit though, warned statements done by hand suck too, I try to avoid that." My main question here is, "Where are you conducting your interviews?" There should be privacy, which means no phones, no radios squawking, no prisoners yelling, nobody walking through.

Although there were a couple responses within that discussion group that were good, such as "having the individual write out their statement and ask questions to clarify the statement", or "audio and/or video tape all statements", etc, there were significantly more practices that were being employed that have been shown to be ineffective, to say the very least.

The best practice for obtaining a written statement is to conduct the interview in a private setting free from distractions and time limitations. Establish rapport with the individual and simply ask them to "Please write down everything that happened..." From that starting point we obtain their pure version account of the incident which we can asses and ask clarifying question about based upon the information they provided, by using open and probing questions. By doing this we obtain more accurate information from the individual and we are in a better position to assess the veracity as well.

Statement Analysis; What's Missing?

One of the fundamental principles with investigative statement analysis is that we ask people open-ended questions to elicit a free narrative account from them. When we do this, the individual has the ability, and in essence the obligation, to tell us everything that happened and everything they feel is important for us to know about a particular event or time period. If they leave out relevant information, what does that potentially say about their account? For instance, we had a mother make a complaint that she believed that her 2-year-old daughter was being sexually abused by her estranged husband who had visitation with her every other weekend. She came in to the station to make a formal complaint and provided a 6-page hand written statement. Not ONE WORD in her 6 pages was about possible sexual abuse of her daughter…nothing! It was all about her ex-husband, how bad he was, he was this and he was that. When the detective mentioned to her that the statement does not contain anything about the suspected abuse of her daughter that she came in to make, her response was, “Oh, I forgot that part.” How can you forget the main issue? How can a mother forget that her 2 year old daughter may be the victim of sexual abuse? With investigative follow-up between our agency and the Department of Children and Families, we were able to prove that this was a false claim, something we later found out she had done prior as well. By applying these techniques you will gain a lot of insight into the individual, their thought process and what is important to them. What’s important to them should be what enters their statement, so what they leave OUT of their statements may provide even greater insight than what they put into their statements! It is important to identify and evaluate what people say and don’t say during interviews and interrogations, and what people write and don’t write within their written statements. What people want to keep hidden from you will be a major motivation and force that influences what they DO tell you. This will be reflected within their language and writing to the well-trained investigator!

Upcoming Training Courses

Highlights of some upcoming police training including courses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Florida: 

Lost Information During Interviews

How much information is lost, or at least not "accessed", when a victim or witness of a crime is interviewed by the police? My guess is LOTS! After more than 22 years of law enforcement experience as a Detective in Major Crime and also a Detective Sergeant in Major Crime as well as within Internal Affairs, I have seen many instances where people are interviewed and only a minimal amount of information is obtained.

Sometimes it may be, dare I say...laziness, but frequently it may just be that the investigators were asking the wrong questions, or the wrong TYPE of questions to actually stimulate the individual memory and help guide them to provide further, accurate detail.

One of the courses we teach through LIES, LLC is Cognitive Interviewing. This method of investigative interviewing draws on years of research in cognitive psychology and human memory function and has been subjected to research and application within the field of law enforcement throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and many other parts of the world, and has been shown to be very effective at obtaining and increasing accurate information from victims and witnesses. 

If you have not had training in Cognitive Interviewing, you will never know the information you are missing during your investigations, and as we all know, even the slightest asset in our favor can make ALL the difference in successfully closing cases!  


Our primary purpose is to enhance the investigator's ability to develop rapport, facilitate communication, extract more accurate information, detect deception and obtain the TRUTH from every investigative inquiry.


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