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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

Have a Script for Field Interviews

Asking the same questions every time will help protect you against charges of profiling and yield a surprising amount of information.

May 01, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Cartoonist Mort Walker once explained his idea for the sex-obsessed character Killer Diller in the popular Army life comic strip “Beetle Bailey.” He said Killer was modeled after a fellow soldier whose standard opening upon meeting a choice specimen of the opposite sex was, “Wanna ____?”

Hint: It wasn’t “hug.”

Needless to say, Killer’s real life inspiration got slapped around quite a bit. Still, the cartoonist was surprised at just how often his friend succeeded in getting what he wanted.

It’s amazing what some people will give up if only asked.

That’s one of the reasons cops shouldn’t be shy about making inquiries into the affairs and possessions of those they deal with. Of course, if we don’t literally get slapped, we may end up figuratively so.

Preventing obligatory allegations of harassment, racism, prejudice, and bias may be simply a matter of asking the same questions of everyone, regardless of who we contact. To do this, we need to have a clear picture of the things we want to find out. Having a script going into the situation can help.

Herein is a checklist of possible contact/detainee questions that you can modify to suit your own situations:

“Do you have any guns, knives, Tasers, or bazookas on you?” (Get the most important stuff out of the way first.)

“Do you have any legal or illegal drugs in your possession or in your car?”

“When was the last time you used any drugs?”

“Where are you coming from or headed to?”

“Who’s in the car with you?”

“Do you mind if I search you? Your car? Your squeeze?”

“Have you been on parole or probation? Are you on parole or probation? Do you aspire to be on parole or probation?”

“Are you a registered Democrat?”

Think about it, there’s damn few demographics out there that theoretically can’t be cause for concern. Pick a race, and there’s some group that’s pushing their own ethnocentric agenda. Gender? Same. Age? Perhaps you’ve heard of the Gray Panthers?

Other political or ideological elements can be of concern. Save the whales, Greenpeace, and various other eco-warriors and animal lobbyists have their fringe elements as well.
So are you really out of line asking the same questions of anyone you come in contact with?

And if someone challenges you on it, simply ask them: Are you saying that I should be profiling? Are you nuts?

Hell, some may even find being the subject of your investigative attentions flattering (but don’t count on it).

I’m only speaking slightly tongue in cheek here. A little bit of salesmanship is in order and, just as placing a different emphasis on any one word can change the meaning of the whole sentence, so too can the manner in which you recite your script. A nice, easygoing smile will probably put the average motorist at ease while an assertive no BS presentation might well let the parolee know he’d best not be jiving you.

Whatever tack you take, don’t be self-conscious or insecure. Anything that makes you appear unsure of the legitimacy of your actions will only embolden detainees to challenge you on them. If you can reel off the questions quickly as though they are all too familiar to you, great, and if you’re able to recite the questions verbatim upon request, so much the better. Looks great in the field, on the stand, or standing tall in the watch commander’s office.

True, your detainees may elect not to answer your questions, and it would probably be in the interests of most low-life, non-law abiding citizens not to. Indeed, should you happen across the infrequent Professor Moriarty, Lex Luthor, Hannibal Lector, or some other criminal genius, you may have to try another route or forego any further investigation altogether.

But you’ll probably find out a hell of a lot more and find it out a hell of a lot quicker than if you don’t ask.

And at the very least you won’t kick yourself later for not having asked them in the first place.


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

David Moore S-55 @ 5/7/2009 8:47 PM

Great article - It's all about how something is said consensual encounter he or she is free to go no implied detention or arrest until needed. May I, Can I, Do you mind if, you would mind if? Or even the simple walk up to a citizen in public place and start a conversation. FI's 3X5 are valuable but, with so much fear of big brother ACLU or ruffled feathers liability, it seems to be a forgotten art in some places/Departments. All it requires is the reasonable suspicion, based on your training and balancing weighting and meshing various factors to succeed and be safe in the process. All that’s required is conveying this same information to a Field Sgt who pulls up to back you, DA or in court. Or as Jack Webb always said just the facts!:-)

ggarciaiceman @ 6/12/2009 10:48 AM

FI's are key in police work. Your consenual encounter could in the future be a potential suspect. Having documented the contact with the subjects creates a paper trail for detectives. One tact that works for me, which I learned from my FTO's is asking open-ended questions, i.e; "When was the last time you got arrested" and avoiding questions that give you a YES or NO response.

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