Trending Topics

How interrogators should respond to ‘I’m not a bad person’

How investigators respond when a suspect says, “I’m not a bad person,” could be key to a successful interrogation


Criminals do not expect a uniformed police officer to tell them they are not a bad person and they simply made a bad decision.


“I’m not a bad person. I didn’t do it!”

When a suspect says this, how should the investigating officer respond?

The reply is critical, as this can be a turning point during a police interrogation.

How Suspects Justify Criminal Behavior

Most offenders justify their behavior no matter how heinous the act of wrongdoing. Even after confessing, many criminals have told me, “I’m not a bad guy.”

The drug dealer justifies his activity by rationalizing that users willingly come to him and he is just meeting supply and demand: If they didn’t get the drugs from me, they would get them from someone else. I don’t sell to kids, just to adults. I’m helping them through rough times. I’m selling quality drugs; I’m not a bad guy.

The child molester rationalizes he was simply showing love and affection toward a 12-year-old child: I was just doing something the parents should have been doing; and the parents should have been supervising their child better. Besides, the young adult didn’t really resist…she loved me, I’m not a bad guy it’s not like she was 12 months old.

The principle is simple: Offenders do not believe they are bad people. If during an interrogation the suspect states he is not a bad guy, do not make the mistake of challenging this statement.

Our visceral response is to say, “Grow up, you’re in denial, you are a bad guy, you molested a child.” If investigators take that path, they make the mistake of failing to validate the suspect’s rationalized perception of their own abhorrent behavior.

While telling the suspect he is a child molester may be accurate, that will not encourage the criminal to tell the truth about the crime. The proper way to address this statement is to agree with the suspect and assimilate it into the interrogator’s theme to persuade the suspect to tell the truth.

The interrogator’s response should be:

“I’m glad you said you’re not a bad guy because I don’t think you are. I think you just made a bad decision. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes in judgment. That’s what I think happened here, I think you were trying to show her love and affection and you overreacted and touched her inappropriately. The thing is, she said it only lasted a minute or two and you stopped when she pulled away. That clearly tells me you realized it was an inappropriate decision because you stopped. Had this been 30 minutes and she was 12 months of age, I might say you are a bad guy, but that’s not the case here. Don’t let this one misstep in judgment define your whole life. You are a good guy but just made a mistake with her, right?”

Even if the subject does not say, “I’m not a bad person,” investigators should develop this concept within the interrogation theme as a means of validating the criminal’s mindset.

Suspects Do Not Expect Validation During a Police Interrogation

While conducting interviewing/interrogation training seminars, I am often asked by law enforcement officers, “Won’t my uniform act as a deterrent to obtaining a confession?”

I explain that suspects eventually focus not on the uniform, but on what the officer is saying to them. Criminals do not expect a uniformed police officer to tell them they are not a bad person and they simply made a bad decision.

Getting into the mind of the offender by validating his or her own rationalization of their behavior is an effective way of obtaining the truth.

Louis C. Senese is VP of John E. Reid and Associates and has been employed for over 40 years. He’s conducted thousands of interrogations and volunteered assistance in cold cases. Listen to Lou interviewed on, podcast #4. He is the author of “Anatomy of Interrogation Themes” and has presented hundreds of specialized training programs to federal, state and local law enforcement, military, federal and NATO intelligence agencies. He has taught throughout the U.S., as well as in Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and the U.A.E. Contact him at