At no time in our modern history have more demands been placed upon the law enforcement officer. Communities are extremely concerned about crime and they are demanding that law enforcement agencies “do something about it.”
It seems that every day, violent crime and drugs occupy the front page of every newspaper in America. Politicians at the local, state and national level like to give the impression of being “tough on crime” and espouse philosophies which, at least outwardly, seem to support that toughness.
At the same time, the public (via the media) is scrutinizing the actions of the law enforcement community more closely than ever before.
The public wants results and, more importantly, to feel safe. Yet, that same public will not tolerate any perceived abuses of suspects’ rights in the process.
Primarily due to the increased cost of incarceration, a concerted push is being made to release prisoners from jails and prisons, with the ensuing increase in probationers and parolees.
Probation/Parole Officers have increased caseloads with no end in sight.
Juvenile crime is sky-rocketing.
Younger, more fearless criminals are becoming the norm, with the media bringing sad tale after tale into our homes on a nightly basis.
When I speak to new recruits, I tell them that what the public wants in a police officer is simple: we want applicants that are warm, caring individuals who are capable of speaking to public groups; conducting demonstrations at schools; counseling troubled youth; rendering first aid; interacting with and assessing problems from a community perspective.
In addition to all of those admirable qualities, we want much more.
If a bad guy is trying to get into our home, we want an absolutely fearless gladiator who will willingly risk his/her very life to apprehend the suspect (without injury to the burglar, of course) and protect our property.
We want, expect and demand all of this for a salary that is far less than society pays a plumber!
Whether a person is a Probation/Parole Officer supervising 100 felons, a Police Officer in a patrol car, a Fish and Wildlife Officer working all alone 50 miles from any back-up, a military law enforcement officer or a Federal Agent working in a structured environment, being a law enforcement officer is an extraordinarily tough and complex job which demands that we apply all of our skills and training.
How has the law enforcement community dealt with the ever-increasingly need for interview training?
Poorly, I’m afraid. Here’s how it works…
In virtually every modern law enforcement agency, much care and consideration is given to the allocation of training, especially that training which requires both expenditures of time and money.
Traditionally, different segments of the agency (patrol, detectives, administration, etc.) have had to compete in a sense for their share of the almighty training dollar budget.
As a result, it is incumbent upon agency administrators to prioritize the available training money.
Training in most modern law enforcement agencies has taken on the semblance of a triage system at an emergency room. Administrators want to send everyone to training, so they end up throwing some money at those who are “bleeding” the most. Due to civil liability concerns, patrol officers mainly receive training emphasizing the motor skills areas (firearms, arrest techniques, emergency driving tactics, handgun retention skills, etc.), said areas presenting the most opportunity for misapplication and a resultant lawsuit.
Investigators receive training geared toward their primary areas of emphasis (interview & interrogation, crime scene investigation, investigative specialties, etc.).
Ironically, an objective analysis of the component parts of the job of patrol officer reveals interviewing skills are utilized far more often than any other skill. Think about it, what skill is used more often than the ability to talk with people and elicit information?
Conversely, what will get an officer in trouble with the public faster than an inability to communicate?
How many times in any officer’s life will he or she use deadly force?
How many times in any given month will he or she get into a vehicular pursuit?
How many instances of dealing with hazardous materials will crop up in an average month?
Contrast the frequency of these incidents against the absolute certainty that we will have to interact with people during each and every shift.
We routinely qualify in shooting, attend yearly hazardous materials safety courses, attend Emergency Vehicle Operations courses and the like, yet most patrol officers never attend formal interview and interrogation instruction after an initial exposure to it in the basic training academy.
Consider the following sober statistics:
o Police Training academies in the United States offer, on average, only 4 hours of training on interviewing techniques during Basic Training.
o 60% of law enforcement training academies in the U.S. don’t offer any interview training at all during Basic Training.
o Less than 20% of all law enforcement officers have received in-service training in interviewing techniques.
Unfortunately, in most law enforcement agencies, the investigators are repeatedly sent to interview and interrogation training, while the patrol officers who apply to attend are routinely turned down. In the bureaucratic effort to make training dollars stretch a long way, administrators often prioritize training requests, sometimes based upon outdated or inaccurate information.
The need exists for inexpensive, easy methods benefit police officers without regard to job assignment, all in an affordable manner.
Compounding the training problem is the current countrywide push toward “Community Policing” and all of the responsibilities inherent with that system. Simply put, Community Policing can be best described as a philosophy of empowerment that allows the beat officer to solve problems. By a collaborative effort with others in the community, police officers are responsible for actually resolving the community concerns, rather than just taking enforcement action.
While the philosophy sounds good, the average law enforcement patrol officer has not been given the tools with which to conduct investigations, interview people, make public presentations and achieve this collaboration to solve problems. Federal grant money has been spread across the country in an effort to promote Community Policing.
Officers have been hired, equipment has been purchased and public relations efforts have been extensive in this area. Unfortunately, officers that do not have the foundation of investigative training may find themselves in an uncomfortable position.
One Community Policing officer recently told me “If I had wanted to interview neighbors, show photo lineups, speak to public groups and work extensively with other public agencies, I would have been a detective. What happened to good, old-fashioned police work?”
One of the primary components of Community Policing is the ability to interact with people in a non-threatening manner which elicits maximum information.
Most basic training academies teach a block of instruction on “Interviewing and Interrogation.” However, these traditional systems stress the structured interview approach to interviewing. The new trainee soon realizes that he or she will conduct hundreds or thousands of street interviews while on patrol and will perform relatively few formal, structured interviews in an interrogation room setting.
There are some very fine formal “Interview and Interrogation” type training classes for law enforcement officers out there (being a polygraph examiner, I have attended quite a few of them), but they tend to emphasize the structured interrogation aspect of the situation and are geared more toward an investigator than a patrol officer.
Look for interview training that does not deal with just the structured interview/interrogation type setting. Again, an analysis of a patrol officer’s daily job reveals that the vast majority of contacts that he or she experiences are not in a structured setting conducive to a formalized method of interview and interrogation.
The Focused Interviewing system is not one based totally on theory, but rather upon practical application. These techniques are being successfully used daily, are very easy to learn and do not require reference texts to be carried in the field.
In this system, we will look at what is wrong (or at least ineffective) with typical street interview techniques, what led us to use techniques that don’t work, what does work and how to develop techniques that will dramatically increase our “confession” or “incriminating statement” rates in dealing with offenders and will be of great value in clarifying statements obtained from victims and witnesses.
This is the first in a long series of Law Enforcement articles concerning first-responder interviewing and interrogation.