Turning interrogation into investigative interviewing

Investigative interviewing is a crucial tool for law enforcement, journalists, and other professionals who need to gather accurate and reliable information from people.

Investigative interviewing should not be confused with interrogation, which is a more confrontational and adversarial process that aims to obtain a confession or other incriminating information. Investigative interviewing is a conversation-based approach that aims to elicit truthful and complete accounts of events, as well as the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of those involved.  

Summary

  • Investigative interviewing vs. interrogation: Investigative interviewing is a conversation-based approach focused on gathering complete information, while interrogation is confrontational, aiming to obtain confessions through psychological tactics and manipulation.
  • Critiques of interrogation methods: Traditional interrogation techniques are criticised for their potential to induce false confessions, lack of scientific foundation, violation of suspects’ rights, and negative impact on vulnerable populations. There is a growing advocacy for ethical and effective practices like the PEACE model.
  • Mindset and application: Investigative interviewing fosters a safe and supportive environment, encouraging voluntary and accurate disclosures. It is applicable not only in criminal investigations but also in workplace disputes, journalistic inquiries, and academic research.

What is the difference between interrogation and investigative interviewing?

The main difference between investigative interviewing and interrogation lies in their respective mindsets. Investigative interviewing is based on the premise that the interviewee is a potential source of information who may have valuable insights into a case or situation. The interviewer’s goal is to establish rapport and trust with the interviewee, and to encourage them to share what they know in a relaxed and non-threatening environment. This requires a curious and open-minded approach, where the interviewer listens carefully to what the interviewee says, asks follow-up questions to clarify and expand on their answers, and avoids making assumptions or judgments.

In contrast, interrogation is based on the premise that the interviewee is a suspect who has committed a crime or knows critical information that they are withholding. The interrogator’s goal is to break down the interviewee’s resistance and get them to confess or reveal incriminating details. This often involves a confrontational and intimidating approach, where the interrogator uses psychological tactics to manipulate the interviewee’s emotions, perceptions, and beliefs. Common interrogation techniques include making false promises or threats, using physical or emotional stress, and creating a sense of isolation or fear.


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Critiques of traditional interrogation methods

The main critiques of traditional interrogation methods often revolve around the ethical, psychological, and legal implications of such practices. Numerous studies and reports from well-renowned sources support these critiques and  have led to a growing consensus on the need for reform in interrogation practices, with a focus on techniques that are both effective and respectful of suspects’ rights and psychological well-being. The adoption of evidence-based practices is increasingly advocated within law enforcement communities around the world.

The main criticism are focused around the following issues:

1. Coerciveness and false confessions: Traditional interrogation techniques, such as the Reid technique, have been criticised for their potential to induce stress, anxiety, and psychological manipulation, which can lead to false confessions. Studies have shown that these techniques can be particularly coercive and misleading, resulting in innocent people admitting to crimes they did not commit.

2. Lack of scientific foundation: Critics argue that some traditional interrogation methods lack a solid scientific foundation and rely more on the intuition and experience of the interrogator rather than empirical evidence and psychological research.

3. Violation of rights: There is concern that aggressive interrogation tactics may violate the rights of suspects, particularly the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel, as guaranteed by legal frameworks such as the Miranda rights in the United States.

4. Impact on vulnerable populations: Certain groups, such as juveniles, the mentally ill, or those with cognitive impairments, are more susceptible to the pressures of interrogation and may not fully understand their rights or the implications of their statements, making them more vulnerable to coercion.

5. Advocacy for reform and best practices: In response to these critiques, there has been a push toward more ethical and effective interviewing techniques, such as the PEACE model (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure, and Evaluate), which emphasises communication, rapport building, and obtaining information without coercion.

Mindset matters

The mindset of investigative interviewing is more conducive to gathering accurate and reliable information than interrogation. By creating a safe and supportive environment, the interviewer can encourage the interviewee to share information voluntarily, without feeling coerced or intimidated. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that the information obtained is truthful and complete, and that the interviewee feels respected and heard. Moreover, investigative interviewing can be used not only in criminal investigations but also in other contexts, such as workplace disputes, journalistic investigations, or academic research.

It’s one OR the other

In conclusion, investigative interviewing and interrogation are two distinct approaches to gathering information from interviewees. While interrogation aims to obtain a confession or other incriminating information through confrontational and adversarial means, investigative interviewing aims to elicit truthful and complete accounts of events and feelings through a curious and open-minded approach. By understanding the differences between these two mindsets, professionals can choose the most appropriate approach for their needs and achieve their goals more effectively.

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Resources

  1. “Investigative Interviewing: Strategies and Techniques” by Michael E. Lamb, LaTonya S. Summers, and David J. La Rooy – a comprehensive textbook that covers the theoretical and practical aspects of investigative interviewing.
  2. “Interviewing and Interrogation for Law Enforcement” by John E. Hess – a guidebook that provides law enforcement officers with practical tips and techniques for conducting successful interviews and interrogations.
  3. “The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation” by John E. Reid and Joseph P. Buckley – a classic textbook that describes the Reid technique, a widely used approach to interrogation.
  4. “Investigative Interviewing: Psychology and Practice” by Rebecca Milne and Ray Bull – a book that examines the psychological principles and best practices of investigative interviewing.
  5. “The Innocence Project” – a nonprofit organisation that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals and improve the criminal justice system. They provide resources and research on investigative techniques, including interrogation and eyewitness identification.
  6. “Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations.” Law and Human Behavior, 34(1), 3-38 by Kassin, S. M., Drizin, S. A., Grisso, T., Gudjonsson, G. H., Leo, R. A., & Redlich, A. D. (2010).
  7. “You’re guilty, now confess! Why are police permitted to use deceptive interrogation techniques?” by Meissner, C. A., & Kassin, S. M. (2004).  American Journal of Public Health, 94(6), 1078-1084.
  8. “Police interrogation and American justice.” Harvard University Press, by Leo, R. A. (2008)
  9. “Youth on trial: A developmental perspective on juvenile justice.” University of Chicago Press, by Grisso, T., & Schwartz, R. G. (Eds.). (2000).
  10. “National evaluation of the PEACE investigative interviewing course.” Police Research Award Scheme, Home Office, by Clarke, C., & Milne, R. (2001).
  11. ChatGPT was used in the creation of this article. Edited by domain experts within investigative interviewing.