Interviewing Techniques The Interrogation Interview Interviewing Techniques, The Interrogation Interview Introduction We are going to look at the use of interviewing techniques by those who investigate. As a result of interviews conducted after accidents and criminal offenses, the interviewer must be able to analyze witness statements in order to translate witness observations into facts and create logic from confusion. The interviewer must have an understanding of those factors that affect witness reporting. The gathering of witness information comprises about 50 percent of the investigating technique, the remaining 50 percent hinges on the ability of the interviewer to analyze and apply his or her knowledge to the sometimes seemingly unrelated observations of the witness. We shall see that even the most sincere of witness statements may not be reliable without corroborating evidence. Listening Since interviewing is a communication skill, some mention should be made of listening habits of the interviewer and some pitfalls one may face.
Lets look at some poor listening habits and what we can do about them. Faking attention should never be done. There are many reasons why a listener may fake attention to someone who is speaking. It may be the speaker's vocabulary, tone of voice, dress, or mannerisms.
Faking attention can be overcome by tolerance and patience. By faking attention you may miss a vital detail of the accident or offense and the witness may not relate the information a second time. Distractions should be avoided or minimized. This problem can be a pitfall for both you and the witness.
If the interview is taking place at the scene it should be conducted at a place with the least number of distractions as possible. Distractions may be noise, movement, vehicles, or machinery. Even a squeaky chair or an unbalanced chair can be distracting. When there are many distractions you should restate questions and give feedback to the witness. One of the biggest pitfalls is listening with your mouth open. As an interviewer you should know when to just listen and keep your mouth shut.
It is almost impossible to listen to a witness if you are talking. Let the witness talk if he or she is willing. If it is necessary to clarify a point, it may be better to wait for the witness to finish before talking and then go back over the area needing qualification. Some witnesses may hold back or lose interest if they are constantly interrupted. Sometimes a pause will cause the witness to explain or continue on in greater detail. In the initial stage of the interview, it is important to listen and not evaluate or pass judgment.
Skipping over seemingly routine questions may cause you to miss a point that may later prove to be helpful. Also, you may pass premature judgment as to the cause and guide the witness in the wrong direction. If you can anticipate the witnesses' next point you can often phrase a question to guide them in a certain direction, or to bring out information previously not given. This skill takes a lot of forethought on the part of the interviewer. Arranging the Interview If you must conduct an interview on-scene it is best to interview the witnesses separately and away from each other. At the initial stages of the interview immediately following the incident, group interviews should be avoided.
Generally, a group interview results in one or two people doing the talking and the others concurring, even if they don't agree with what is being said. It is important that the witness understand who you are, whom you represent, and what it is you are trying to find out. Witnesses should be approached in a positive manner and you should approach them with the attitude that they will be willing to talk. "You don't want to talk to me, do you?" will almost certainly elicit a negative response". I would like to talk to you about what happened here" will generally put the witness in a more cooperative state. Make the person feel that the information they are about to give is important and of great value.
Whenever possible, initial contact for an off-site interview should be made by telephone. You should introduce yourself, state the mission or objective, and whom you represent. Contact should be made as soon as possible after the incident; waiting can cause distortion of the facts by friends, relatives and attorneys. A positive approach should be used and you should assume that the witness is willing to talk and approach the interview in that frame of mind. If the witness is given an easy out or feels that you don't really care, there is a good possibility that the witness will decline the interview.
The location of the interview should be a place that is conducive to a good interview, a place where the witness will feel at ease and there are relatively few distractions. However, if you suspects that the witness may be hostile, the interview should be set in a neutral location, not the witness' home ground. Conducting the Interview There are many ways to conduct an effective interview. You will be able to pick and choose the techniques that best fit the circumstances. The results will be easily analyzed if the interview is loosely structured to find out what happened before, during, and after the incident.
It may also be easier for the witness to impart information if you can encourage them to use a chronological order. Courtesy in conducting the interview is important, if you are rude, brusque, or abusive the witness will sense it immediately and turn off or hold back. To get the interview off on the right track, it helps to put the witness at ease by establishing a good rapport, "what a nice home you have", or "what adorable children you have. How old are they?" If you have an area of mutual interest with the witness, it may help to discuss it briefly before actually getting started.
Patience goes hand in hand with courtesy; you may have to ask the same question several times. If a witness has problems remembering details and the sense that you are becoming impatient or losing interest, the witness may well terminate the interview or become frustrated. Asking good questions is the most important aspect of interviewing. A properly worded question can stimulate the witnesses' memory and thinking process. Most questions should be worded in such a way that it requires more than a yes or no answer and should be keep objective not subjective.
A subjective question may relate information to the witness that they had no prior knowledge of and therefore, change or direct the answer into a mistaken path. In asking questions there is another trap that you can fall into, if you have already formed an opinion of what happened, you might phrase the question in such a way that supports your preconceived idea rather than finding out what the witness say. Remember, interviews are only part of the story and others cannot corroborate many witnesses' observations. Eyewitness' observations may vary strikingly when discussing details like color, location, weather, or lighting conditions. Knowing how to ask a question will resolve some areas of controversy but letting the witness report what they saw is best. Taking notes during the initial interview is to briefly list details of the witness' observations and lend structure to the interview.
Note taking also assists you in maintaining a chronological approach; before, during, and after. It is a good idea and common courtesy to obtain the witness approval and explain that the purpose of the notes is to accurately record details. Be prepared to cease note taking if the witness becomes distracted. If this happens jot down occasional key words to remind you of details.
Also witnesses may prefer to tell the entire story without interruption and key word note taking can assist you in going back to ask questions for clarification. Factors that Affect Witness Accounts As an interviewer you should be keenly aware of and prepared for any decided distortion or exaggeration caused by excitement or emotions. Distortions or exaggeration tend to be more prominent in verbal statements. How accurate a statement is depends on the mental state of the witness at the time of the interview and the complexity of the situation.
Exaggeration is likely to creep into testimony if the witness has repeated the observation several times. For example, each time the fisherman tells about the catch, the fish get bigger! You should be careful not to accept quantitative statements at face value; they are highly prone to exaggeration. The perception of witnesses will tend to be more astute if they have been personally involved. However, if the incident was particularly frightening or traumatic, the witness may experience difficulty in remembering the details.
It is not unusual for someone involved in a serious or dramatic accident to not remember details for several days following. On the other hand, if a witness is able to report on the most vivid details, you should be alert to and differentiate between what the witness truly saw or merely took for granted. The person's general demeanor, tendency to over or under exaggerate, prejudicial, religious or political statements, or conflicting statements and being easily swayed can many times assess a witness' credibility. It is also important to not allow your own prejudices to interpret the witness' responses. A witness account can be affected by many environmental factors, both during the interview and at the time of the incident. Precipitation, fog, dust, darkness and glare may have restricted or limited the detail that the witness may have seen.
Proximity and obstructions at the scene may have made it impossible for the witness to see what they claim to have seen. It is important that you understand and recognize these and direct specific questions to the witness that will determine what they really could have or have not seen. Summary The techniques and recommendations outlined will not make you an expert. They will however, give you an understanding of tried and true methods for conducting interrogation interviews.
To be a good interviewer you must be able to analyze witness statements in order to translate witness observations into facts and create logic from confusion. You must have an understanding of those factors that affect witness reporting. Remember if there are many distractions you should restate the questions and give feedback to the witness and that it is almost impossible to listen to a witness if you are talking. If you must conduct an interview on-scene it is best to interview the witnesses separately and away from each other.
When contacting them to set an interview if the witness is given an easy out or feels that the interviewer doesn't really care, there is a good possibility that the witness will decline the interview. Always use courtesy in conducting the interview, if you are rude, brusque, or abusive the witness will sense it immediately and turn off or hold back. If a witness has problems remembering details and the sense that the interviewer is becoming impatient or losing interest, the witness may well terminate the interview or become frustrated. Always take notes but be prepared to cease note taking if the witness becomes distracted and that exaggeration is likely to creep into testimony if the witness has repeated the observation several times.
Interviewing is a communication skill and like any other skill it takes practice to become effective.
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