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2 more great interrogation techniques: The “lying child” and the “logical approach”

People do not like to be pushed — they like to be involved in the process, and by their involvement, we can lead them to a confession

Editor’s Note: John Bowden’s book “Interview to Confession, The Art of the Gentle Interrogation” goes into great detail on the use of nonverbal communications in interviews, investigations, and interrogations. It is available on and on our website

In the interrogation we are asking our subjects to share with us their side of the story. Some interrogators try the frontal approach. “You did it, we have witnesses, we have prints, we have DNA, we have hairs, and we have footprints. You might as well confess!”

I call this the overwhelming evidence approach. People do not like to be pushed — they like to be involved in the process, and by their involvement, we can lead them to a confession.

As you present your investigation, have the subject acknowledge what you have said. You will be leading him to share his story. With each step you present, have him acknowledge it. You do not need him to agree with you, you only need their acknowledgement.

The Logical Approach
The introduction sets the stage.

Investigator: Tom, we have been working on this case for a long time. Not just me but our entire team of investigators, crime scene technicians and lab workers. We have talked to a lot of people about this case.

Then you begin your interactive pitch:

Investigator: Tom, you have heard of DNA evidence haven’t you? (Have good eye contact and nod yes as you deliver this.)

Subject: Yes. (Hopefully nodding his head with yours.)

Investigator: Tom, you know that footprints can be used in cases, don’t you? (still nodding yes.)

Subject: Yea. (Nodding head in agreement.)

Investigator: Tom, you know there are video cameras everywhere, don’t you? (Nodding)

Subject: Yea. (Nodding)

Investigator: Tom, when something like this happens we talk to a lot of people, right?

Subject: Uh huh.

Investigator: Who do you think people look out for when we talk to them?

Subject: Themselves.

Investigator: That’s right Tom, themselves. Tom, you have to look after yourself don’t you?

Subject: Yea.

Investigator: Tom, I have looked at this case from all sides except your side. You are a good guy; you take care of your family don’t you?

Subject: Yea.

Investigator: You have a good job which shows you are reliable, right?

Subject: Yea.

Investigator: Tom, this tells me you have your side of what happened, don’t you?

Subject: Well, Um….

Investigator: Yes you do, I know it, right? Yes?

Subject: (A low voice, a slight nod.) Uh huh.

Investigator: That’s what I thought; it’s your side that matters, not what someone else says happened, isn’t it? (shaking your head no)

Subject: No. (shaking his head no)

Investigator: Yeah, that’s what I thought, I feel the same. Let’s get your side out, OK? (nodding yes.)

Subject: (Nodding yes) OK.

Investigator: (Rewarding the agreement) That’s good Tom, tell me where it started, the beginning. (You can also put this in the form of a question ie: “Tom, did it start with the bills?” Make your question relevant to the case.)

From here you go into your queries, asking simple short questions, rewarding each answer. This process is natural, involving them in the conversation, leading them to wanting to share their side of the story.

It is the involvement in the conversation that leads to them sharing their story.

The Lying Child Strategy
Detective Robert Taylor of the Alvin Police Department in Texas shared a similar strategy with me that works the same way. With his permission I present it here for your review.

Investigator: We teach our children to be honest, and take responsibility. Let’s say you have a young son that is going to be in the house by himself. When you come back into the house, there lies a broken lamp on the floor. You ask your son what happened and he says, “I don’t know what happened. I found it that way.” How do you feel about that? Do you punish him?

Subject: I guess.

Investigator: Do you punish him for breaking the lamp or lying about it?

Subject: Both, I guess.

Investigator: But if you want to make a point you have to focus on the more serious issue. Which one do you punish him for?

Subject: I guess for lying.

Investigator: Now let’s say it is the same scenario, except when you come back in and ask him about the lamp, he says, “I broke it with a ball, I’m sorry.” How do you feel about that?

Subject: I guess not so bad.

Investigator: Would you still punish him? Wouldn’t you be impressed by his actions? Wouldn’t you almost feel a sense of pride for your son, for stepping up?

Subject: Yes, I guess.

Investigator: You guess?

Subject: No, I would be.

Investigator: Now let’s say I take you before a judge and jury, and I said, “I am investigating a crime and John Doe here is my primary suspect. I asked John about the incident in question and he told me to go pound sand. He said he has no idea what I’m talking about. ”Think about that for a minute.

Subject: Okay.

Investigator: Now let’s say I take you before a judge and I say I am investigating a crime and John here is my primary suspect. I asked John and he said, “I did it. I made a bad decision. I needed money to feed my kids, but I’m a good person and I am willing to take responsibility for my actions.” Now John, if you’re the judge and you want to make an example of one of these guys, which one would it be?

Subject: I guess the first one.

Investigator: You guess? You know! You’d be thinking about that second guy more though. You’d be thinking “Wow, that doesn’t happen very often. I’m impressed!”

Investigator: Right, John?

Subject: Yea.

Investigator: Which guy do you want to be? Are you going to be that first guy or the second guy?

Subject: The second guy, I guess.

Investigator: You guess? You know you wanna be that second guy! Now John, which guy are you going to be?

From here, the subject makes the decision to share their story. Reward each bit of information and continue to get the next piece.

John Bowden is the founder and director of Applied Police Training and Certification. John retired from the Orlando Police Department as a Master Police Officer In 1994. His career spans a period of 21 years in law enforcement overlapping 25 years of law enforcement instruction. His total of more than 37 years of experience includes all aspects of law enforcement to include: uniform crime scene technician, patrol operations, investigations, undercover operations, planning and research for departmental development, academy coordinator, field training officer and field training supervisor.