Mark Severino, LAPD Detective III, Major Crimes Division
One of the benefits of a science-based interview over a traditional interview approach is that an interviewer can elicit more detailed information. Another benefit is the interviewer can identify the cues of deception and truth when assessing credibility. There is no question that science-based interviewing contains all the required concepts that covers all the bases.
That said, if the interviewer who is trained in science-based interviewing enters an interview using a traditional interview approach (judgmental/accusatory) and mindset, science-based techniques are not going to be very effective. A science-based interview requires a much different demeanour and thought process on behalf of the interviewer.
Here are some things to think about when attempting to adopt the proper mindset for science-based interviewing:
1. Instead of entering an interview with the sole objective of acquiring answers to your questions, try to broaden your objective. Enter the interview with the intent to elicit all of the information a subject is willing to talk about. This causes the interviewer not to “push” just for specific answers and it gives the subject a sense of autonomy. When we push for specific information or we push the interview to get a subject to talk, it only facilitates resistance. We want to gain cooperation, not create resistance. We want the subject to talk while being made to feel it is his or her choice. Since most interviews begin by giving a subject a choice whether to talk or not, the interviewer should continue to give this sense of autonomy throughout the interview.
2. The second objective of having a science-based mindset is when the interviewer identifies inconsistencies between what the subject had said and what the interviewer believes to be true. First, what we as interviewers believe to be true should be information that is verifiable. Second, when confronting a subject with inconsistencies in his or her story, the interviewer should ask for an explanation of the inconsistencies. Alleging someone is lying or calling a subject a liar many times will cause resistance – again, not where we want to go. Asking for an explanation using a non-judgmental approach keeps the subject in the game.
3. Inconsistencies are a normal memory phenomenon and we need to be careful to not automatically assume a subject is lying when presented with inconsistencies or contradictory information. Inconsistencies between a subject’s narrative and verified information are considered to be verbal cues of deception. However, the interviewer needs to remain open to the fact the subject may have a plausible explanation and must be given the opportunity to explain.
4. Research on science-based interviewing is clear on how perceived evidence can influence a subject’s decision-making. An interviewer should let the evidence and or verified information do the influencing. Throughout, the interviewer should maintain a demeanour resembling a facilitator of information vs. what is commonly categorized as an interrogator.
5. As any experienced interviewer knows, we don’t need a confession to deem an interview successful. Many interviews are successful when we’re able to place a subject at scene, show an association between people or exonerate an individual. When an interviewer enters an interview with the purpose of obtaining a confession, the interview is conducted in a manner specifically to meet that objective. When the subject does not confess to the crime, we see minimization (the interviewer plays down the seriousness of the crime) or maximization (the interviewer exaggerates the magnitude of the charges) strategies take place. These minimization and maximization strategies have been shown to contribute to false confessions.
When we enter an interview, we have already formed an opinion to some degree regarding what has happened, who may have observed it and who is responsible. This is based on what we have come to know through our investigation. However, we don’t know what the subject knows or what the subject is willing to talk about. The interviewer should be careful attempting to guide the subject to only talk about the topics the interviewer is interested in and not allow the subject an opportunity to talk about topics he or she believes important. This sense of autonomy given to the subject is important as it facilitates rapport and minimizes resistance. The more we attempt to control an interview, the greater chance a subject is going to resist our attempt to control. The interviewer will have a greater chance of obtaining everything that is desired when the subject believes he or she has a choice in the matter.
The opinions expressed in this article, which was prepared in Mark Severino’s personal capacity, are his own and do not reflect the views of the Los Angeles Police Department.
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