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Consider the ‘gentle interrogation’

The Coordinated Behavioral Response is an investigative philosophy where the investigator responds appropriately to the behavior exhibited by the subject

This article presents an alternative to the classic interrogation. It presents the process of guiding a person to share their side of the story with the investigator. It is the strategy of a rapport based conversation revealing the subject’s story of what happened — in essence, a confession.

The classic interrogation does not give the subject a choice. It makes the subject concede to the investigator. The investigator states, “You did it,” and demands, requests, or cajoles the subject to agree. The investigator does not stop the verbal assault. He presents evidence, facts, and other statements; pushing the subject to agree. This is called the hard sell. In the cases where a subject confesses to a crime they did not commit, it may be because of this hard sell — one which may have gone on for hours. The investigator keeps pushing the idea the subject committed the crime. Along with this push to get the subject to agree, the investigator presents his theory of how it occurred. The investigator produces evidence — whether it be real or fictitious — to support their theory over the course of the barrage of, “You did it, you did it, you did it…”

The subject finally gives in and confesses. The confession is a repetition of information already presented to the subject during the non-stop, verbal assault from the investigator. The reasons vary why the subject confesses. In some cases the subject believes he had a blackout of his memory and thinks he may have committed the crime and forgotten. In other cases the investigator wears down the subject and the subject finally gives in to escape the mental assault. In these cases the subject forgets they can stop or ask for an attorney. This type of interrogation has resulted in false confessions in numerous cases.

The Coordinated Behavioral Response
In my model, the Coordinated Behavioral Response (CBR), we do not use the hard sell. We do not want to force or convince the subject to concede. Our model is based on the establishment of rapport and trust with the subject; whereby they will feel comfortable in confiding in us and tell us the story — the secret of what happened.

Everyone needs a confidant — someone who understands you, with whom you can share your thoughts, your feelings and your innermost secrets. We want to be that person. The one that understands. It is similar to your best friend that finally went out on a date with that someone they have been dreaming about and striving to make a meaningful contact with. They finally went out on a date. From your friend’s behavior, you know the date was a success. You see the signs, the behavioral hints that everything went great.

You ask, “How did it go? What happened? Will you see them again?” Your friend resists at first. You use your intimate relationship with your friend to get them to confide in you. They want to tell you, they need to tell someone. You put yourself in that position of being that person they tell. They finally share with you, the person they trust, the story of their wonderful night with the dream date.

The Critical Factor
Each person has what is called the “Critical Factor,” or “Critical Faculty.” This is a subconscious part of the human brain that evaluates information flowing into the brain from the outside world. It compares incoming information with the beliefs, values, views and principals already established by the subconscious of the mind. It decides whether information is true or false. It challenges information that does not meet the established beliefs of the critical factor.

For instance, if someone told you that cars fly, you would not believe them. This is because the subconscious knows that cars do not fly — not in real life.

The critical factor is not always correct. Someone may tell you that drinking alcohol is bad for you. You drink alcohol and you like it. Since you like it, it must be good. Therefore, your critical factor may hold the belief that drinking alcohol is not bad for you.

The critical factor protects you from outside influences. Without this subconscious guardian, you would believe anything you were told, allowing people to take advantage of you.

It even protects you from doing something different. It wants to maintain the status quo. How many times you have wanted to try something new and that little voice in the back of your head says, “No, you better not.”?

This is your critical factor. It does not like change. The critical factor does not develop until puberty. This is why children believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy. They do not have the capacity to compare these concepts to real life and reject these ideas. The critical factor is developed and established subconsciously as you live and grow. We see that it is not always right — sometimes it has established beliefs that the person will defend. In fact, a person will defend beliefs held by the critical factor, even if they are factually wrong. The more we challenge the beliefs, the more entrenched they become.

Mindless Learning
Ellen Langer — a researcher from Harvard — has written several texts on how the subconscious learns. She refers to it as “Mindless Learning.” This is where the subconscious takes in information and establishes the base of what you believe. This is where the standard interrogation fails. We are trying to change the mind of the subject and make them confess to us what they did. Their critical factor rejects making a confession to protect the subject. The more we push, the harder the subject defends their position not to confess.

People do not like to be brow beaten into conceding. If we push, it will only make them close up. Instead, we let them make a choice. Getting them involved in the process makes them more willing to cooperate. In the interrogation, we take an interest in the subject, we establish a rapport that says, “We want to help you.” and “We understand.”

We allow the subject to make the decision to confide in us. We know they are ready by the body language we observe. In the interview, we become the person the subject trusts, a friend or confidant. We don’t ask for a confession, we ask them to share with us, a person that understands what and why it happened. As we present our story or our sales pitch, we watch the subject’s behavior. We respond to that behavior, becoming that someone the subject trusts. The critical factor will let us into the subject’s private domain. The critical factor allows us in, because it is ok to share information with a friend or confidant. The behavior tells us when they are ready to tell us what happened.

The Dual Option
We do not say, “You did it, didn’t you?” This is a statement looking for that concession. Instead we offer them a choice. A choice allows the subject to decide and make up their own mind. This is where the “Dual-Option” question aids in our strategy. The “Dual-Option” question is a question that offers two choices from which to select. We present these two options to the subject. For example, “Did you do it because you love her, or did you do it because you hate her?” Either option is an admission. We give them a morally-good option or a morally-evil option to choose from.

It doesn’t matter which one they choose, as either option is an admission — and with that admission we continue to the confession. However, most subjects will choose the good option.

Do not present two good options or two evil options. Two good options provides no contrast and the person will usually remain silent. Two evil options provide the person no moral relief. In either evil choice, the subject is a bad person. In presenting the good and the evil option, you offer a contrast to choose from; the difference between good and the evil.

They have a choice, “Am I good or am I evil?” Generally, the person will deny the evil choice. To the question, “Did you do it because you love her or did you do it because you hate her?” The person will deny the evil choice. They may say, “I don’t hate her.” From there you support the good choice saying, “I know you don’t hate her, you love her don’t you”” The obvious answer to this, from the subject is, “Yes, I love her.”

From there, this naturally leads you to the statement, “I know you love her; that is why you did it, isn’t it? It’s because you love her?” The next response from the subject might be an admission consisting of anything to include a nod, a grunt, a silent mouthed yes, to a verbal statement. This process allows them to make a choice, bypassing the critical factor. They did it for a good reason, an acceptable reason. They choose to admit to us, a person with whom they have a rapport, that they did it. They did it because they loved her. The admission may not occur on the first presentation of the question. The subject will be listening and thinking about what we are saying. If the subject doesn’t answer, we keep presenting the options, good and evil, until the subject weighs in on either side. From there we will get the admission; the admission they did it.

The following case is an example demonstrating the necessity of using a good and an evil example as options. In a check theft and forgery case in Flagger County Florida, a woman took a pay check, designated for another employee, off the manager’s desk. She signed the other employee’s name and cashed the check at a bar. The investigator was conducting an interrogation. He had reached the point where she was in the confession position. She was quiet, crying, looking down and away.

He asked her,” Did you do it for money for Christmas presents or to pay for the starter in your brother’s car?” He kept repeating the two options, “Did you do it for the starter or the Christmas presents?” He repeated this several times. She remained quiet, crying and looking away. Finally he said, “Did you do it for the starter or the Christmas presents? Or did you take it for drugs?” He repeated, “Did you take it for drugs?”

She replied in a low voice, “I don’t do drugs.”

He replied, “That’s right, you are a good person, you don’t do drugs. Did you do it for presents?”

He continued, “You did it for the presents didn’t you, or did you do it for drugs? I don’t think it was for drugs, it was for presents, wasn’t it?”

He continued for several more cycles until she responded to this question, “…it was for presents, wasn’t it?” She did not say anything, merely nodded yes very slightly. The investigator saw the nod and said, “That’s OK, it’s Christmas, everybody deserves a nice Christmas.”

He continued asking about using it for presents and she replied, “I just took the check.” After that, he was able to get all the information about the theft and forgery of the check. The point here is she did not respond to the nice option, she responded to the bad option by denying the use of drugs. This propelled the questioning forward with her participating and finally confessing.

Our options should be coordinated with the circumstances of the event, i.e.: love versus hate, accident versus intentional, long ago versus now, spur of the moment versus intention, a lot of money versus little money, necessity versus greed and so on. After we reward the first admission, we can continue the process offering choices of good and evil, letting the subject choose and elaborate. As they share the information with us, we verbally reward their efforts. This encourages the subject to keep talking. Eventually, the dam breaks and the subject begins to freely discuss the facts and circumstances of the case; giving us a full confession.

We must remember in the presentation of our story, to stay away from presenting a detailed scenario, giving a step by step presentation of how we think it occurred. We give reasons and excuses, but stay away from presenting facts and theories. This insures that, when the person confesses, they are not repeating back to us what we said to them. They will have to tell us their story based on their memory. Later, after the confession, the defense cannot say we concocted this story. We can show it came from the subject.

My new book — “Interview to Confession, The Gentle Art of Interrogation” — presents the methods to establish a rapport and guide the person to a confession. It presents a new concept called the “Coordinated Behavioral Response,” a method that gets away from the standard stepped investigative process currently taught and used today. The Coordinated Behavioral Response is an investigative philosophy where the investigator responds appropriately to the behavior exhibited by the subject, whether they are a victim, witness, or suspect, to gather information and solve a case.

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.