Want to improve your interrogation technique? Think like a GPS

Observing the subject’s behavior throughout the interrogation process will allow the investigator to constantly calculate their present location and timeline to the final destination — the truth

All officers have used a GPS at one time or another. These devices work as navigation systems, providing us with location and ETA information about our destination. And anyone who has used a GPS for any substantial length of time has on occasion taken wrong turns on route and heard the omnipresent voice advising us that the system is “recalculating.”

When interrogating a subject, oftentimes he or she takes the role of our GPS, exhibiting behavior that tells the investigator to recalculate when he takes a wrong turn during the interrogation process. The investigator must recalculate using the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation

The primary concern for all investigators is to obtain a legally acceptable confession from the guilty person. However, by listening to the GPS (the subject), the investigator will be able to accomplish this goal in a more efficient manner.

Recalculating the Route
Step 1. Confront the offender. At this stage of the interrogation, the investigator confronts the subject with the fact that the investigation indicates his/her involvement in the commission of the crime. 

“Lou, the results of our investigation indicate that you took Jean’s purse from her car while it was parked on Oakwood Drive.” 

The ‘GPS’ is now locating the investigator’s position, the starting point: accusing the subject. He has locked in his position, (the starting point of the interrogation), and his destination: the legally acceptable confession. 

The subject now becomes a behavior-based navigation system — a GPS. If the subject responds by vocalizing loud denials, displaying a barrier-type posture and defiant stare, the timeline to the destination expands. However, should the subject wring his hands, and provide a weaker verbal denial, the time to the destination shortens. 

Likewise, should the subject look down, nod his head in an affirming manner, offering no verbal denials, the route to the concluding destination, the confession, is much nearer. 

Step 2. Theme development. This consists of the variety of routes the investigator proposes to lock in the GPS to reach the destination — the truth. Themes are the presentation of reasons and excuses to the subject that serve to psychologically, not legally, justify his/her behavior. 

While psychological blame is shifted away from the subject, legal responsibility for committing the crime is not. Based on the case facts and evidence, the investigator should have prepared several such ‘themes’ as he/she begins this step. Additionally, the interrogator attempts to morally or psychologically minimize the subject’s behavior by contrasting what he/she did with something that is more serious, so that by comparison, what the subject did appears to be less serious. As he develops one of perhaps several different themes, such as blaming the victim for leaving her purse in an unlocked car, he is  carefully monitoring the subject’s behavior for signs of acceptance or rejection of the interrogator’s theme.

If the subject displays negative behavior to this theme, such as looking away, shaking his/her head ‘no,’ and denying involvement in the crime, the investigator should recognize that his/her GPS is indicating that they have taken a wrong turn. The subject is actually indicating that the investigator should change the theme to a different and more efficient route to the truth. 

Consequently, the investigator may offer moral justifications as an alternative theme — presenting optional routes —such as the following: 

1.    No one was hurt 
2.    No weapon was used
3.    This is the first time you’ve done something like this
4.    It was done on the spur-of-the moment 
5.    You only took her purse, not her car
6.    Your intent was only to take the money, not her identity
7.    You’re out of a job
8.    You were behind in your bills and were desperate for money
9.    She was careless and you meant this to be a lesson for her
10.    It was a lapse in judgment 

Getting to the Truth
During theme development, the subject may reject many of the themes as indicated by his/her verbal denials or nonverbal cues which means that the GPS is indicating the need for the investigator to recalculate his approach. When the subject relates to one particular theme, the interrogator will  observe a variety of positive nonverbal cues: eye contact, barriers beginning to drop, an affirmative nod of the head, and the like. By observing which themes the subject accepts most, the investigator is now choosing the shortest distance between two points — a legally acceptable confession obtained in the most expeditious manner.

3. Minimize the frequency of denials. Investigators do this to facilitate shortening the distance to the destination. The ‘GPS’ will assist here as well. How does the subject verbalize his/her denial? 

Does he/she offer a weak denial such as “I swear to God, I wouldn’t take a woman’s purse” — indicating that the investigator is still on track. Or does the subject offer a strong denial such as “Your investigation sucks, I didn’t take her purse” — which would suggest we need to recalculate our theme? 

4. Overcoming objection. After their denials fail to dissuade the interrogator’s efforts to ascertain the truth, some subjects may offer an objection,. An objection is an excuse offered by the subject as to why he/she could not have committed the crime. 

One such objection in this case example might be, “Why would I take someone’s purse, I’m an honest guy.” Objections are usually true statements offered by subjects. The proper response would be to agree to the objection. “Lou, I know you’re an honest guy because if you were a dishonest guy, you wouldn’t have taken only her purse but her car as well. You see, Lou, we know you’re an honest guy.” 

If the subject responds positively to that exchange by nodding his head in a positive manner and begins to look down, the GPS is now showing a shorter distance to obtaining the truth. 

Quickly Arriving at the Destination
Step 5. Getting the suspect’s attention. At this stage of the interrogation, the subject has now moved begun to nonverbally tuning out the interrogator, so the investigator must again make a navigational change. They do so by getting the suspect’s attention. The investigator may move his chair in closer to the suspect, or ask questions aimed at stimulating internal thoughts from the suspect.

Step 6. Displaying signs of psychological acceptance. When the subject begins to show physical signs of acceptance — body language all good investigators should know well — the interrogator now realizes the subject is very close to their destination. 

Step 7. Using the alternative question. The investigator now is at the point in the journey at which they offer the subject two incriminating choices concerning some aspect of the crime, accepting either choice represents the first admission of guilt. 

“Lou, was this the first time you took someone’s purse or have you done this dozens of times before? I think this was probably the first time, wasn’t it?” 

If the subject responds “yes” or simply nods his head in an affirmative manner, the investigator has arrived at his destination and now requires details from the offender that only the perpetrator would know. 

“Where is the purse now?” “What did you do with the contents of the purse?” “Did you sell any of the credit cards or do you still have them?” “How much money was in the purse?” 

Step 8. Obtain corroborative information. The investigator then may invite additional witnesses as he develops corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.

Step 9. Getting the confession. Once corroborating information is obtained, then a legally acceptable and documented confession is taken — written or recorded. 

During the entire process, the investigator is constantly adjusting — redirecting according to the GPS — and adapting the line of questions to suit each of the nine steps. By reading the subject and understanding their habits, an investigator can efficiently navigate his way to a legal confession.

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