Browsing all articles from February, 2012

Interviewing – Using Emotions Properly

Posted Posted by DetectiveEstes in Detective Estes' Corner     Comments No comments

I last wrote about police interviewing in June, 2011. I think another short article is due. I teach a 1-day interview class to police officers in the Northern Virginia region. The name of the class is “The 30-Minute Interview”. The class is targeted toward uniform police officers so they can learn to obtain truthful information in very short time frames. I hope to continue to teach it to all police officers in the Northern Virginia area. It’s a good course, easy to teach, and easy to learn. I’ve had numerous officers contact me to say they used the techniques taught to them in this course, or to say they heard someone talking one day and knew it for a lie. They just wanted to notify me to thank me for teaching them this course.

I was in uniform for 17 years before becoming a detective. I know the aggravations that uniform police have. I believe that modern officers hired since about 1995 have been trained to keep their emotions in check and they are much better at it than when I was hired. This is admirable and is very useful in interviewing. An interviewer who allows emotions (anger being the main one) to get in front of the interview has lost the interview at that point, whether the point is in the beginning or mid-interview. Good interviewers only show emotion at points when emotion of some kind is needed to foment the conversation.

Uniform police have to place their emotions deep inside during many calls. Calls for domestics where members of families have torn each other apart physically, such as Andrea Yates who drowned her five children then called 911 and asked for help. Imagine the thoughts of the uniform police officer who entered that house and saw 5 little bodies, side by side, on the bed, all dead. Surely not many would have felt the slightest amount of ill will toward the officer if he had simply killed Yates at that moment of extreme emotion….except that the officer didn’t. Instead Yates was arrested, and convicted of murder in 2002.

What does a uniform officer feel when responding to a robbery in progress where shots are being fired? Does the officer remember training scenarios? Or does the officer consider that the next 5 minutes may decide whether he/she goes home tonight, or dies right here. From experience, I can say that emotion of worrying about dying is placed inside and training for the incident takes over till long beyond the incident.

What does a uniform officer think about when walking up on a serious accident and seeing copious amounts of blood from multiple victims or seeing a little body that has been thrown from one of the cars with not a sign of trauma to it, but no pulse, and not breathing? One officer who was first on scene of an accident involving a school bus in which a child was decapitated told me he went into kind of an active trance, working completely automatically making sure the other children were safe, off the bus, and not knowing about the little dead child. The officer investigated the entire accident in this trance-like state, photographing, measuring, interviewing all who saw anything, completing all forms and notifying all parents till he was completely done with all of the accident. The Officer said he came out of this ‘trance’ when he got back home and saw his own children safe and sound.

What did all the police officers and fire fighters do on September 11, 2001 when both World Trade Centers were demolished as well as the Pentagon, and later at Shanksville, Pennsylvania during the investigation of Flight 93? I know several officers who were at the Pentagon as well as participated in the clean-up of the crime scene at the Pentagon. This included the collection of body parts of the victims. To a person, all of these officers tucked their emotions in a place inside of their selves until much later when there was a time and a place to have emotional responses. Some of the officers dealt with their emotions by never speaking of the incident. I know one officer who observed the plane crash into the Pentagon while he was standing on the closest roadway outside of the location. The officer placed his emotions of this incident inside and has never spoken of the crash.

The above incidents are commonplace for many uniform police officers daily, especially those who work in urban areas or high crime areas. Uniform officers learn quickly to place their emotions away or they find that they simply cannot handle these high stress incidents without losing their cool and reacting inappropriately to the situation.

Officers should do the same thing with their emotions during interviews of criminal suspects, as they do in other incidents. I think one reason that emotions come out, during the primary investigations of crimes, is due to the cowardice of the suspect in the case. Denial by suspects of the commission of the crime is infuriating for police officers. Most criminals project a tough guy persona, but yet, when apprehended for a crime, these same tough guys try to whine and lie their way out of their culpability. This is a complete role reversal for a tough guy. The correct role for these tough guys would be to own up to their deeds and simply accept the outcome. When the police are confronted by someone who indicates their machismo to obtain respect from police, and then lie about their involvement in crime, officers become angry. It’s like the criminals are being dishonorable to their own selves. In short, the criminals are hypocrites!

Some may say officers should expect this from criminals and should not take lies so emotionally. I say officers should take lies in stride and instead of being emotional right at the moment of the lie; they should wait until the end of the interview after they obtain a confession to the crime so they can celebrate. An officer, who can withhold emotion during high stress incidents, can be taught to with-hold emotion until another time during an interview.

The point of all this is to obtain truthful statements from those involved in a crime, no matter what that person’s relationship to the crime is. No matter who is talking, (victim, witnesses, suspects, whoever else), the police need to be able to determine when lies are being told and know what to do about lies so they obtain truthful statements. Emotions should be shown when necessary.

What kind of emotions am I talking about here? Mostly compassion to the target of the interview. If a victim or suspect, compassion to their predicament as well as friendliness. I have found that compassion and friendliness goes further to obtaining truthful statements than any other emotion. A smile, a touch, a handshake, can do wonders for developing a quick rapport. Compassion maintains that rapport.

Compassion works so well because the interviewee assumes the police are in agreement with them. This is true especially with a suspect. If the police have developed a rapport with the smile/handshake, then seemingly agrees with the criminals reasoning for the crime, or motive for the commission of the crime, the police are seen as understanding. This gives a LOT of information from criminal suspects! A lot of information frequently includes an incriminating statement from a criminal suspect.

This is using emotions properly in interviewing criminals.

Whether victim or suspect, the compassion has to be seemingly real. There can be no smart aleck tone from the officer, no nasty type smiles that implies something other than what the smile is really supposed to mean. No edge to the voice when trying to develop rapport with these people. There can’t be any implication of any hidden meaning to words being used either.

This effective use of emotion doesn’t come without practice. Everyone knows that they are sarcastic or smart aleck at times, or if they use a double entendre as a rule, or if they have other methods of speaking that only their friends will put up with. If you are like this, or do other things that you know others around you haven’t particularly enjoyed, then you need to know right now that all of those ways of speaking are useless in a police interview. If you are the kind of person that immediately reacts to other people’s words with some kind of emotion, or movement, you should put a stop to that before entering into a police interview. If you are the kind of person that reacts badly to insults – if you feel the need to yell at someone that is yelling at you, or react by getting in someone’s face when they raise their voice to you, or strike someone if they anger you, then you need to put a real damper on that kind of emotion in a police interview.

A police interview is one of trust between the officer & the target of the interview, (the person being interviewed by the police). That trust cannot be built on anything that appears to be false emotions. If the Officer/Detective can use his emotions properly, then the target will believe in that kindness and compassion shown and give a truthful statement.

The next article on interviewing will discuss how the police can work on replacing anger with the proper emotions for interviewing.

About Detective Estes

Detective EstesMr. Estes has lived in the DC Metropolitan area for most of his life. His father’s influence and expertise in firearms resulted in Mr. Estes beginning to rifle shoot at a young age and eventually shooting on the Washington-Lee High School rifle team in Arlington, VA.

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