11 LE experts share interrogation tips with MaestroVision

BOCA RATON, Fla. — How do you facilitate suspect interviews? Where did you learn your techniques from?

Education is crucial to consistently advance your skills in any field.

We at MaestroVision asked law enforcement professionals with backgrounds in investigative and interrogation work to contribute tips that will help their fellows upgrade their investigative processes. See below for the results.

1. José Granado
Former Captain - Miami Police Department

“In over 35 years in Law Enforcement, I have been involved with hundreds of interviews. An important rule that any investigator must follow is to conduct the interview prepared. An unprepared investigator is setting themselves up for failure, whether they are interviewing possible witnesses and especially if they are interviewing a suspect. Investigators must have patience and the gift of gab when interviewing, continue the interview as long as the suspect is willing to talk or until they invoke their right to counsel. An adversarial style of interviewing is a tactic or strategy that can fail and hinder an investigation. Investigators must tread lightly when deciding to go down that path. A good interview or interrogation is all psychological and the investigator must find the door which has been closed by the suspect/subject, find the key, and open it. This approach will determine in which direction the interview or interrogation will go. But, the most important tip, never begin an interview of a suspect without having advised them of their Constitutional Rights. These are a few suggestions and there are many more in my book, “The Homicide Manifesto”, which can be obtained through Amazon, Barnes and Noble books or Austin Macauley’s website. Also, one can listen to my Podcast, “Behind The Yellow Tape Podcast”, on iTunes.”

2. Chandra Cleveland
President & CEO of Columbia Private Investigations & Consultants

“As an Investigator of 35 plus years, I have learned to go in with knowledge and patience. Invite the suspect to make them know that they are going to be there for a while, then spoon-feed them the questions you already know the answers to. Because you are able to know which way to really go with the suspect, then you hit them with a little hard question, if they answer that correctly you pretend to show respect with something like 'thank you, we were not aware of that information.' It will lead you to the door of putting the icing on the case, which is to tell him/her they are being arrested for the crime. Patience will lead to a worthy reward as an Investigator in some cases.”

3. J. Paul Nadeau
Former police detective, hostage negotiator and international peacekeeper

“Not all criminal suspects are guilty and not all are bad people. Regardless of good or bad, this works in almost every case. Walk into your interview keeping in mind that how you treat them is how they will likely treat you. Check your ego at the door. How much they cooperate will depend on three factors: whether they know you, like you and trust you. What, you say?!

It doesn’t take long to make that happen. Start by dropping your official ‘title,’ ( i.e. “I’m Detective Nadeau, but you can call me Paul”) and invite the suspect to call you by your first name. This personalizes the interaction. Ask what name you can you to address them, (“What should I call you”). Tell them that you’re there to treat them with dignity and respect and that you’re not there to judge them or find them guilty of anything – that you’re only after the truth. State the purpose, i.e.: “I’m here to ask you about…” Then drop the formality and interview for a bit. Don’t launch into the interview/interrogation immediately.

Take time to build rapport and get to know the person sitting across from you. Show interest. Find something in common. Begin with a friendly conversation. You’ll know when to move to the subject under investigation. Their body language and openness by that time will signal you when it’s time. People respond best to those they know, like, and trust.”

4. Scott Savage
Law Enforcement Officer

“The actions of law enforcement officers are under more scrutiny now than any other time in human history. The way officers interrogate criminal suspects is a subject of hot debate. I think that debate is for good reason because what most people probably don’t know is that most conventional police interrogation training is based on outdated techniques, some of which have been proven to be based on nothing more than pseudo-science. Worse yet, many of the same techniques still being taught to law enforcement officers today have been scientifically proven to contribute to false confessions. That always comes as a surprise to most police officers who simply attend training courses and assume they are learning safe and scientifically sound techniques. It’s never surprising to researchers however, many of whom have for years published papers and books condemning conventional interrogation training as dangerous. When our course designers created our Interview and “Interrogation” training course they couldn’t believe the mountains of research that was easily accessible including the specific recommendations on how police interrogation training must change. My biggest advice to police officers looking to attend interrogation training is to make sure the course you choose is in harmony with the latest research and isn’t based on those outdated techniques. If not, you may find yourself having to defend yourself in court one day, or worse yet, you may unknowingly participate in convicting an innocent person. Don’t think it happens? Simply read the research.”

5. Roy Williams
Former Sr. Sergeant Investigator assigned to the Sexual Assault Unit, specializing in Human Trafficking at Dallas County

“There is a distinct difference between interviewing a suspect and interrogating one. Oftentimes, these terms are used interchangeably. However, they do not share identical functions during questioning.

Interviewing occurs during the initial stage of your investigation and is considered the lowest level of suspect interaction. The tone is mild and questions are generally open-ended. It is during the interview where your suspect if often discovered and identified. Once you have attained enough data/evidence to reach this conclusion, you shift your questioning towards the interrogation.

Interrogating has a change in tone. You have accused the suspect of having some involvement in the crime and begin to reveal the evidence you have against them. You will likely do a majority of the talking and the questioning will be more direct and accusatory.

Be mindful of the fact that an interview can lead to an interrogation, but not vice-versa. It is impossible to return to interviewing once the interrogation has commenced.”

6. Lisa Cutts
Detective Constable with Kent Police & Crime Books Writer

“You can’t lie or mislead with the information you already know but there is no problem with holding information back. As long as the custody (PACE) time allows, there is no issue having a break to check or verify facts. Sometimes the suspect refusing to answer questions can help the investigator.”



7. Patrick Murphy
Former FBI Special Agent

Prepare questions: When preparing for a planned interview it may be helpful to write out questions in a logical progression. It forces you to organize your thoughts, pull the relevant facts together, gather documents you may want to show the interviewee, and if it is going to be a confrontational interview, flag test questions.

It is rare that you will stick to the script of your questions and you want to go with the flow of the interview as opposed to sticking to the script. However, before you end the interview look back over your questions to make sure you didn’t miss anything…because you may only get one shot.

  • If you are bringing documents to show the interviewee, make sure you mark them (e.g. Bates #) so you can later reference them in your report.

Put the interviewee at ease: Generally speaking, it is good to put the interviewee at ease. Even if you anticipate a confrontational interview, try to bring down the tension at the start. Begin with a friendly but professional tone and start out with basic questions to include bio info (i.e. name, date of birth, address, employment etc.). Even if you already have the information, it helps to ask them their bio info to get them calmed down and it gives you a chance to glance at their baseline. I have even tried a little humor to break the tension and hopefully get him/her to drop their guard a little. It is good to try to develop some rapport or at least don’t try to offend them right from the start. Ways to offend include coming across as judgmental, or arrogant, or trying to impress them with your vocabulary, downgrading their status or profession, finishing their sentences, interrupting them, failing to give eye contact when they are talking to you, or failing to listen to what they are saying- this would be especially bad because a good interview is as much about being a good listener as it is about asking the questions.

8. David Thompson
Partner, Vice President of Operations and an instructor with Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, Inc

“If you’ve ever been directly accused of something before, more than likely you’ve immediately responded with a denial. We have an instinct to self-preserve, innocent or guilty, our first response is to protect ourselves. In traditional interrogations, investigators often resort to direct accusations early in the conversation. An accusation generally results in an immediate denial and increased resistance from the subject. This also makes the interviewers job more complex, as the subject has now committed to their denial and has to be persuaded otherwise. A more effective approach is to rely on rapport-based, non-confrontational interviews. Initiating a conversation through a discussion of the investigation and the interviewers role, while developing trust through rapport and allowing the subject to make more rational decisions can yield great results. This strategy has proven to obtain more reliable information, develop better community relations and ultimately resolve cases with more credibility. Additionally, when interviews are recorded in their entirety, a non-confrontational interview will provide a transparent perspective into the most ethical way to obtain the truth.”

9. Scott Mogck
Certified Subject Matter Expert for the US Department of Defense

“The Emotional Fear-Down Approach is necessary in a real life interrogation or interview scenario. The interrogator should do what they can to properly assess the reasons for the subject’s fear, and find a way to mitigate the subject’s fear that will lead to cooperation on the part of the subject.

The fear mitigation is not normally a formal agreement, or one that even has to be articulated by the interrogator. Instead, the interrogator/interviewer uses verbal and nonverbal behavior to calm the subject. This can include changing physical positions in relation to the subject, using a soothing tone of voice, adopting a more open and non-threatening body posture, kind and affirming facial expressions, projecting a sense of calm, and offering cigarettes and/or some kind of drink.

Psychologically, the interrogator needs to get the subject to view the interrogator as the protector and the source of calm. The interrogator can then use this to elicit gratitude in the subject, and foster cooperation by the subject with the source of his fear reduction. An Emotional Fear-Down Approach can, by itself, create the rapport necessary for the subject to cooperate once pertinent questioning related to investigative objectives begins.”

10. Jim Twardesky
Patrol officer, field training officer, defensive tactics instructor & Detective

“The goal of investigative interviews, whether it is a suspect or a potential witness, is to obtain truthful statements to help further the investigation. The reality is that for a variety of reasons, some people will not be forthcoming about what they know. It could be because they’ve done something wrong. Maybe they’ve done something embarrassing. It could be because they fear being labeled a snitch. Everyone has their own individual motivations for what they do or don’t do. Their motivation for not talking could be any number of reasons, some legitimate, some silly, but either way, it is important to them and its preventing you from getting the information you need.

True empathy is the ability to see and understand what another person is experiencing in any given situation. Empathy for the person in front of you helps your interviews by helping you to identify their motive for not talking. Once that motive is identified, you’re in a better position to persuade them to tell the entire truth despite their inclinations not to.

It’s important here to remember that empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone’s situation; empathy is about understanding someone else’s perspective. I’ve interviewed hundreds of child molesters for whom I have zero sympathy after what they’ve done. However, I can tell you that many of the confessions I obtained came after an expression of empathy for what they’re going through. A simple “it must be tough having your deepest darkest secret revealed to the world, I would lie too if I was you” has led many offenders to telling me their deepest, darkest secret.

Whenever you find yourself struggling through a difficult interview, try looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective and adjust your strategy accordingly. Over time, I assure you that you’ll see your success rate go up.”

11. Rodshetta Smith
Police Officer & State Investigator

Be confident in the information that you have and do your research on the evidence prior to the interview. It is important that you know the facts of the case prior to speaking with the alleged suspect. If you appear to be weak and unsure, the suspect will not feel it necessary to provide you with an interview or will give you false information. The old school of thought that suspects are not intelligent is not accurate and will backfire on you while you are trying to get a confession or information.

Check your emotions at the door, because although we come across some of the most heinous crimes committed by people who we feel should seek immediate justice, it is not our decision. The suspect and victim deserve to be allowed their constitution right to participate in the judicial process.

Make good eye contact, watch their body language and be a good listener. Use active listening skills to let them tell you the story and repeat back the highlights of what they are saying to build rapport. Although it may not always be the response we hoped for, recording the interview and repeating back the suspects words can be used by the District Attorney Office as evidence if there are discrepancies in what they are saying.

Speak to the suspect in his or her own language or at their intellectual level. Use simple terms, no police Jargon and ask them how they prefer to be addressed. This helps build rapport and shows you respect them as a human. They are likely to recognize this and want to speak with you.

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