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Five tips for successful criminal interrogation

Sgt. Steve Schrimpf of the Greeley (Colo.) Police Department has spent years conducting interviews and criminal interrogations. Schrimpf was a Police Officer in Albuquerque from 1991-1994, spent five years active duty Air Force Security Forces (and another 19 years in the Air National Guard after that) and is now Chief Master Sergeant and Security Manager for the 137th Space Warning Squadron in Colorado in addition to his duties role with Greely PD. Schrimpf, who also major crimes investigator for his department from 2000-2006, tells Police1 that he’s found a few techniques that have really worked for him during the conduct of an interview or interrogation.

1. Empathy can be a powerful tool. Try to establish some type of rapport with the individual before you rush right into the Miranda advisement and the interrogation. It is not natural for a suspect to want to tell the police anything, especially one he does not know. Give them a cup a coffee, a candy bar, etc. Explain to them you have completed a thorough investigation that has led to them and you really do want to hear their side of the story. It is also a very effective persuasion tool for jurors. They tend to give more credibility to interrogators who have a non-threatening approach. Try it first, if it doesn’t work, then transition to the more aggressive approaches.

2. Let them interrogate themselves. Let the suspect ramble on at first and give you their false statement about their involvement in the crime. Lock them into a lie, then start to pick it apart piece by piece. If you have done a thorough investigation, this should not be that difficult. Sometimes catching a suspect in a lie is just as good as a confession.

3. Pay close attention to everything. You can pick up a lot of non-verbal and verbal clues you may miss if you have your head down in a pad taking notes. Additionally, paying close attention to everything the suspect says and does creates additional stress on them, which may lead to them breaking down sooner rather than later.

4. Don’t be afraid to offer an alternative “face saving” scenario. Make sure your scenario still contains a confession of the elements of the crime being investigated and does not create an affirmative defense issue. Knowledge of criminal statutes is critical in this scenario. In my experience, once a suspect confesses, it is much easier to draw them to the truth. The initial confession of involvement is the toughest obstacle.

5. Do some research on your suspect. Find out what is important to them (children, wife, job, fears of jail, etc) and use those hooks to your advantage. I cannot tell you how many confessions I have obtained by telling a suspect their confession is in their best interest to prevent loss of these important connections in their lives.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.