Have you ever watched a police drama on TV, maybe ” Law and Order” or ” NYPD Blue”, and cringed when one of the detectives lunges angrily at a suspect as if ready to beat a confession out of him? Most people would, but Hollywood sometimes fuels a misconception that police work is all brute force and very little mental acumen.
Legal police interrogation is one of the most sophisticated and complex applications of cognitive psychology to be found in any field. Eliciting a confession from an unwieldy suspect takes a combination of strong behavioral science knowledge, tenacious psychological manipulation skills, creativity and a heavy dose of street smarts. The detectives have to build rapport with a possibly dangerous individual, analyze their verbal and non-verbal behaviors while remaining professional and personally detached, no matter the seriousness of the crime or level of emotion involved in the case.
The long range goal in police interrogation is gathering information from the suspect by identifying and exploiting their weakness and possibly get them to lower their guard and confess. Sometimes the manipulative techniques used prove too strenuous on fragile psyches and innocent people have been know to confess to crimes they have not committed.
Here are some of the techniques used by police forces in North America.
* Good Cop/ Bad Cop Routine
This is an oft used technique in police departments when dealing with youthful or inexperienced offenders. Two interrogators present opposing stances to the suspect; one as a rogue punisher who uses threats and verbal attacks and the other as a defender willing to protect the suspect and sympathize with them. People respond and are more willing to open up and confide in someone they feel safe with, and so the ‘good’ cop is able to take advantage of this rapport and use further psychological manipulation to gather information.
An interrogator who has been trained in psychological manipulation attempts to build rapport with the suspect by feigning interest in something the suspect deems important eg. a hobby, political ideology, racial or gender bias, alternative lifestyles etc. The goal is to get the suspect to loosen up and be comfortable talking. Once the suspect believes the detective is like him in interests or beliefs, he is likely to let down his guard and open up, giving vital information that can be utilized further in the interrogation process if necessary.
In this technique, the interrogator asks the suspect a series of non-stressful questions in order to establish their normal behavior pattern by observing their non-verbal reactions. In other words, by observing the interviewees facial and body movements during and after answering the question, the detective gets an idea of how they normally respond when they are telling the truth. This is vital information to be used in vetting any deceptions as the intensity of the interrogation increases.
* Neurolinguistic Interviewing
This is an expansion of the Kinesic interviewing technique where the detective will attempt to establish how the interviewee’s brain works when they are thinking or recalling events. This is achieved by asking the suspect various questions that will cause them to access different parts of the brain and is determined by observing their eye movement. When asked a non threatening question that requires them to use memory eg. ” what year did you graduate from High school?”, their eye movement will move to the right since they are accessing the memory center in the right hemisphere of the brain. A question requiring the suspect to think or analyze (or make up information) could elicit eye movement upward, down or to the left. After establishing this behavioral responses, the detective will then immediately ask questions directly related to the crime in question and make a note of the non-verbal responses accordingly.
* Reid 9 Step Technique
This is one of the most successful methods of interrogation used in police investigations. It involves 9 steps in which the detective uses psychological persuasion to lead the suspect to a confession. It is a lengthy monologue or speech by the interrogator and the suspect is not allowed to speak uninterrupted before step 8. This technique has been criticized for its effect on youth due to high numbers of false admissions after the lengthy coercive interrogation.
The nine steps in summary are:
*Confrontation- detective states that the suspect is involved in the claim citing true or false evidence;
*Theme Development- detective proposes reasons justifying or excusing the commission of the crime;
*Stopping denials- interrupts suspect denials;
*Overcoming Objections- framing suspect objections as possible admissions of guilt;
*Getting the suspect’s attention- Physical closeness and use of verbal techniques to command attention;
*The suspect loses resolve- physical signs of surrender begin to appear eg, tears, shaking ; *Alternatives- interrogator offers two contrasting motives until suspect makes choice between acceptable reason and unacceptable reason for committing the crime;
*Bringing the Suspect into the Conversation- suspect is encouraged to talk about aspect of the crime;
*The Confession- interrogator has suspect write out confession or state it on videotape.
The suspect is usually willing to do anything at this point to end the interrogation.
-The Principles of Kinesic Interview and Interrogation, Stan B. Walters, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 2003.
– F B I Law Enforcement Bulletin – August 2001
– Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation, David E. Zulawski, and Douglas E. Wicklander,CRC Press, Ann Arbor, 1998.