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Interrogation tips and tricks

By Scott Buhrmaster
Police1 Managing Editor

Former investigator Pat McCarthy has interviewed scores of suspects over his long career, including those nailed during major federal operations. Along the way, he has picked up a vast collection of tips and techniques that helped him maintain a stellar conviction rate. Following are just a few. If you have your own to share, be sure to post a comment or e-mail the editor.

1. Keep time on your side
McCarthy cautions interrogators to avoid glancing down at your watches, pacing about or otherwise demonstrating body language that gives a suspect the idea you’ve got somewhere else to be. If a suspect thinks you’re losing interest in the discussion or you’re distracted by having another commitment to tend to somewhere else, they may be more resolved to perpetuate a lie with the idea that they’ve only got a little more time to sweat things out with you in the interrogation room.

Instead, you should give the impression that you have all the time in the world. You can talk all night, no problem. If a suspect realizes you’ve got plenty of time to get to the bottom of things, his resolve to stick to a false story will be weakened.

2. Respect privacy…for your own benefit
McCarthy suggests that interrogators make an effort to conduct their discussions in as private a setting as possible. Your goal, in essence, is to have this suspect tell you a “secret” – that he committed a crime or knows who does. By facilitating a feeling that what’s being said is “private,” which of course it isn’t, you can improve your chances of having the suspect open up.

3. Avoid discussing consequences
If you want to get a suspect to admit to a crime he’s committed, reiterating the severity of the punishment won’t help facilitate that confession, cautions McCarthy. He cites instances where he’s seen investigators blast into the interrogation room and start out with, “Look, man, this is very serious and you’re going to prison for sure, so you might as well talk.” Not wise, he says.

4. Try the end-around approach
One of the creative approaches McCarthy has taken when dealing with two suspects is what he terms the end-around. The idea is to convince one of them that the other has turned on him.

To do that, McCarthy will grab Suspect A and bring him into a room. Then, he’ll simply start asking simple, non-condemning things about Suspect B. Does he have a girlfriend? What kind of car does he drive? Where did he grow up? Does he smoke? Anything...

After doing this for about 30 minutes, McCarthy will give Suspect A a pad of paper and tell him to write down everything he did that day, from the minute he got up to the minute he got picked up by the police. When he starts writing, McCarthy will return to Suspect B and tell him that Suspect A has blamed the crime on him. Inevitably, McCarthy says, Suspect B will demand that McCarthy prove it by having Suspect A admit that in front of him.

Here’s where the ruse sets in.

McCarthy will then bring Suspect B to the room where Suspect A is intently writing away, documenting his every move that day. What Suspect B sees is his supposed buddy writing some….a statement perhaps?!

Very quickly, McCarthy will open the door to Suspect A’s room, point to Suspect B in the doorway and ask, “Is this the guy you were just telling me about. Is this him? You sure?” McCarthy says he has never had a suspect answer anything other than “Yes” to that question—since, of course, he just spent 30 minutes telling him about that guy--at which point he very quickly closes the door.

What Suspect B thinks he’s just seen is proof that Suspect A has turned on him. He’s now convinced that Suspect A is writing a statement after having turned on him during his time with the investigator.

5. Silence can be golden
Another ploy McCarthy has used when dealing with two suspects is the silent treatment. Initially, he will let the two suspects sit together for a while, long enough for them to get their stories straight with each other.

After sufficient time passes, he’ll enter the room, grab Suspect A and walk out, leaving Suspect B alone. He’ll walk Suspect A over to his desk and have him sit next to him while he works.

McCarthy won’t say a word to the suspect. Inevitably, the confused suspect will ask him why he’s not questioning him, to which McCarthy will reply with a “Shhhh…” as though he’s trying to work.

After about 30 mins. of silence, McCarthy will return Suspect A to the room where Suspect B is sitting and leave him there for a few minutes.

Of course Suspect B will ask Suspect A what McCarthy questioned him about, to which Suspect A will say, “Nothing.”

Suspect B won’t believe that the 30 minutes Suspect A spent with McCarthy were silent and distrust will set in. Suspect A will try desperately to get Suspect B to believe he’s telling the truth and Suspect B will get madder and madder as his conviction that Suspect A is hiding something grows. Sometimes, McCarthy says, the suspects will get so mad at each other, they launch into a fight right there in the stationhouse.

At this point, McCarthy will grab Suspect B and walk him over to his desk where he’ll begin typing frantically as though he’s filling in details of the information Suspect A just supposedly gave him. To add fuel to the fire, McCarthy will stop typing and ask Suspect B whether there’s something the guy did that would make Suspect A hate him so much.

The final blow comes when McCarthy informs Suspect B that Suspect A has given him more than enough information to nail them both, at which point McCarthy gives Suspect B a chance to share his side of the story and the talking begins.

For information on training classes and videos from Pat McCarthy, visit

Have your own tips and techniques to share? Post a comment below or e-mail the editor.

Scott Buhrmaster is Vice President of Training and Editorial for, which was awarded the “Quill & Badge Award” for Excellence in Journalism by the International Association of Police Unions. He is also the Publisher of Police Marksman magazine and has served as Contributing Editor for Law Officer magazine. He has been a member of the law enforcement training community since 1989, when he began work as Director of Research with Calibre Press, Inc., producers of The Street Survival Seminar.

Throughout his tenure at Calibre, Buhrmaster was involved with virtually every aspect of the company’s officer survival training efforts, from the planning, creation and marketing of the organization’s award-winning textbooks and videos to developing and securing training content for the Seminar. In 1995, he was named Director of the Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline®, an Internet-based officer survival training service he helped found. In less than five years, Newsline readership grew from 25 officers to more than 250,000 in 26 countries, making it one of the most popular training vehicles in law enforcement history. His efforts now focus on providing training and information to the nearly 400,000 officers worldwide who visit every month.

Prior to joining Police1, Buhrmaster, who also serves on the National Advisory Board of the Force Science Research Center and stands as an active member of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, was President of The Buhrmaster Consulting Group, an international consulting practice for the law enforcement training sector and the publishing industry. Scott may be reached at