FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Dynamic Plaques - FVT Plaques
FVT Plaques is introducing new dynamic plaques to recognize police and sheriff's...

Security Policy and the Cloud

Ask The Expert

Mark Rivera

FBI-CJIS Security Policy Compliance Officer

Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.


Asking the Right Questions

Every law enforcement officer needs to know how to conduct a criminal interview and interrogation.

October 01, 2008  |  by Shane G. Sturman

Regardless of your assignment, as an American law enforcement officer you need to know how and when to ask the right questions of criminal suspects.

Quickly gaining rapport and eliciting information from individuals is one of the most valuable tools in law enforcement. Obtaining admissions from suspects solves more cases than all the forensic evidence techniques combined.

Let's begin by briefly distinguishing between interviewing and interrogations, although this article will address both:

An interview is a broad-based inquiry using open-ended questions to obtain facts, sequence of events, or alibis, which may or may not be true.

An interrogation is an attempt to obtain a statement or admission against the individual's interest when it is believed he is withholding information. It is to be conducted without the use of threats or promises.

OK, let's talk about how you can gain the advantage when conducting an interview or an interrogation.

Setting the Stage

Finding the ideal room setting requires many considerations and can get very specific, but the main idea is to keep the room simple and free of distractions. The room should be smaller, such as 10 feet by 10 feet, and away from outside distractions. If there is a window, the suspect should be seated to face away from it.

Remove any excess furniture, phones, wall clocks, or reading material. There should be no barriers such as a desk or table between the interviewer and the subject. Eliminating barriers between the officer and the suspect creates a more neutral environment and allows a clear observation of the subject.

Also, limit the number of people in the room. Ideally, it should just be two or three people including the subject. It is easier for a suspect to say something negative about himself in front of one person vs. an audience. If there must be another person present, have him blend into the woodwork—seated further back and off to the side so as not cause a distraction.

Tip: Avoid distractions in your interrogation room—keep it as empty as possible, remove unnecessary furniture and people. Use a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.

Establishing a Baseline

The easiest way to interpret a suspect's behavior is to first establish a behavioral norm for that particular suspect.

Verbal and nonverbal behaviors are very individualized and, although generalizations can be made about behavior, individuals can be unique when trying to deceive. Observing the subject while gathering background information and during the rapport-building phase will give you an average behavior baseline that you can use as a reference point for comparison. This comparison will be made when you later discuss the crime.

Be aware that any situation that is unusual or threatening may cause the suspect's stress level to rise. For example, consider the reaction of most people when stopped for a traffic violation. Simply being in an interrogation situation will cause some behavioral changes.

The goal of the observant investigator is to recognize that people who are being interviewed may be nervous; this nervousness may have nothing whatsoever to do with deception. It may be simply caused by the situation. Evaluate the suspect's behavior in light of his behavioral norm, the population's average response, and the context of the situation.

Behavioral Clusters

The behavior observed during the course of an interview/interrogation is more likely to be valid when clusters of different types of behavior occur together.

For example, in a deceptive individual, you could observe a lack of eye contact, closed body posture, and grooming gestures. At the same time, there may be deceptive verbal behavior with delays in the speech pattern. The clustering of similar behaviors when evaluated globally assists you in determining whether the individual is truthful or deceptive.

Rarely is a single behavior to be interpreted as the truth or deception. The accuracy of the decision is enhanced when the behavior can be read in clusters that support each other, leading to the conclusion of truthfulness. Much like deception, truthful behavior can be read using clusters of behavior such as direct spontaneous responses, good eye contact, open posture, and related fluid movements.

Cautions in Evaluating Behavior

In addition to keeping in mind any environmental distractions, you must consider any personal biases against the suspect, which can allow you to overlook information and behavior indicative of guilt or innocence. People remind us either positively or negatively of someone we know and you must be aware of these biases.

Also be aware that cultural, ethnic, and geographic differences can cause behavior variations in people. In some Asian cultures, eye contact may be significantly less than among other populations because it may be inappropriate to make eye contact with an authority figure. Gestures and behaviors may also be typical for specific cultures and very appropriate for their ethnic group.

You must also take into account the attitude of the suspect when assessing behavior. When you are dealing with someone who does not like law enforcement, you will receive negative feedback from that individual.

Request more info about this product / service / company

Be the first to comment on this story

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

Police Product Test: AE Light AEX35/50 HID Searchlight
This is a searchlight. It is designed to blast a wide beacon of daylight over a very long...
Police Product Test: Dickies Men's Stretch Ripstop Tactical Pants
Dickies' Ripstop Tactical Pants retain the rugged functionality that has made Dickies...
2016 Police Eyewear
New police eyewear for 2016 will shield your eyes from the sun and more when you're on or...
Give Me an Unlisted Number, Please
Any officer who is on social media should know it makes us too easy to find. So here are a...
You Can’t Lead from Behind
President Obama needs to get out from behind the podium and talk to officers and the...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Zip Code:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine