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Field Interrogation Methods For Law Enforcement Career - A Beginner's Guide

Aug 17, 2007
The thing you have to be good with in field interrogation is psychology, and particularly empathy. Methods involving coercion and extreme stress are not admissible in court for a reason - they don't work, besides being unethical. A skilled interrogator would never think to stooping to unethical means of obtaining information, and wouldn't need to anyway.

That being said, the methods covered by the term "ethical" do not necessarily imply they are "honest". You are the law enforcer, after all, and your suspect either is trying to evade confessing or trying to refrain from telling on someone else. Every normal conversational technique is perfectly fair game. Deceptive tactics and psychological manipulation are perfectly allowable in all cases. Thus, a good interrogator has some skills in common with a good actor.

Let's start with a very basic template, the famous "Reid technique" which is taught at most instruction courses in law enforcement today:

1. Confrontation. Start by presenting the facts of the case and informing the suspect of the evidence against him. This "evidence" can, indeed, be fabricated! State in a confident manner that you already "know" what you are trying to get the interviewee to tell you, as if you are merely looking for an explanation.

2. Theme development. Next, create a scenario about why the suspect might be guilty. In this phase, you are being condescending. You are making it sound like you "side with" the suspect - sure, anybody can understand how the suspect had a momentary lapse in judgment or acted in haste under the circumstances! Lay out a theme, hypothesizing your theory, and look to the suspect for signs of agreement. Look for anything the suspect can latch onto to justify their actions.

3. Stop all denials. Letting the suspect deny his guilt will increase his confidence that he can pass the interrogation without confessing, so you must interrupt all denials at this point, telling him it will be his turn to talk in a moment, and so on. If the suspect's denials taper off gradually, the interrogator knows that they're on the right track.

4. Overcome objections. This is different than denials; objections are appeals to logic, which is a frequent tactic to squirming out of a confession. The suspect may state that they couldn't be guilty of the accused crime, because of X, Y, and Z. A good interrogator can turn a logic-based objection into a confession. For instance, he can weave the logic-based objection into the theme development mentioned in step 2.

5. Getting the suspect's trust. If the suspect is showing signs of being frustrated and unsure of himself, you're very close to a confession. Appeal to the suspect's desire to escape from the situation by pretending again to be their ally. You can confide that you might have "slipped up" yourself in the same situation, that what you're accusing the suspect of is nowhere as serious as what somebody might think without a confession, or that the suspect is actually the victim of fate. The idea is to gradually walk the suspect to a line of reasoning where confessing to you will be the most comfortable option.

6. Pouncing on defeat. If the suspect's body language or conversation shows that they have lost confidence, you're closer yet. Signs of depression as the realization of their guilt hits them, bursting into tears, a panicky state as they imagine the penalty for their actions, all of these are markers to the way forward. Do not let the suspect emotionally escape at this point. Make them look at you, squarely make eye contact, move in closer, make them feel the stress.

7. Present alternatives. Here's where it's time for more creativity: Counter the developed theme with its sympathetic tone to the harsh judgment of the act in the cold light of society. Alternate back and forth between the minimized version of the story and the worst-possible interpretation of events. Look for agreement on the minimized version.

8. Bring the suspect through his confession. Once the suspect has agreed to the minimized version in step 7, the confession has begun. Be all ears, be rewarding, smile and confide with the suspect. They are at last cooperating with you - the more they cooperate, the more they should feel emotionally rewarded in return. Take notes, record it on tape or video, have a witness present, whatever you need.

This is just one method, but the Reid method is preferred and used in police departments throughout the world as an acceptable means of obtaining a coercion-free confession. These same methods can be applied to anybody with something to hide.

The Reid technique is just the beginning. Now that you know the script, here is some "method acting" if you will, on how to approach the interrogation process. Use your judgment of the individual and the situation to decide what approaches will and won't work on the subject.

* The Incentive Approach. This is a method of rewarding the source for his cooperation, by reinforcing positive behavior. No, you may not deny people their rights, but you can offer them "bonuses". Such as assuring them that with their cooperation, this will all be over in a jiffy. Or perhaps that in exchange for being cooperative, you will tell them something that will help them. These promises are never guaranteed, but gently implied. In the famous "good cop/bad cop" technique, this is the role of "good cop".

* The Emotional Approach. Use the subject's emotions against him. You can either encourage the subject to vent their anger at their victim, or lead them into defending their justification for their actions.

* The Anger Approach. Summon a display of indignant disgust with the subject when they are uncooperative. It is important that you do not, yourself, make threats that you cannot keep, nor imply that you will use coercive tactics, nor go overboard with melodramatic displays of temper. This is the flip side of the "incentive" approach. Create in the subject's mind the certainty that things will go worse for them if they do not cooperate. By all means mention the maximum penalty for breaking the law, and the additional penalties for withholding information, with an appeal that the suspect examine the mess they've gotten themselves into. In the famous "good cop/bad cop" technique, this is the role of "bad cop".

* The Pride and Ego Approach. In this method, you work either positively or negatively on the subject's sense of personal value. In working negatively, you point out to the subject how shameful their situation has made them, what a rotten person their guilt makes them. Appeal to the moral society they have violated. In the positive approach, flatter your subject to gain their trust. Seek to increase their sense of personal worth, justify their actions, and count them as valuable members of society who have coincidentally gotten themselves in this minor altercation.
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