Interviews & Interrogations

Daniel P. Higgins describes the different techniques used by interviewers and interrogators when investigating suspected arson cases.


It's 1:30 in the morning. A Molotov cocktail crashes through a bedroom window. Fortunately for the occupants, the bottle's landing is cushioned by bedclothes, preventing it from breaking and spreading its deadly contents. Photo by Therese R. Rasnick Information gathered at or near...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

It's 1:30 in the morning. A Molotov cocktail crashes through a bedroom window. Fortunately for the occupants, the bottle's landing is cushioned by bedclothes, preventing it from breaking and spreading its deadly contents.

9_97_interviews.jpg
Photo by Therese R. Rasnick
Information gathered at or near the scene of a fire often will be critical in determining the direction of the investigation.

When fire marshals arrive to investigate the incident, they immediately see the potential for horror. Interviews with the homeowners and neighbors produce no eyewitnesses to the crime. The case becomes one of establishing a list of suspects and eliminating them one by one until only the perpetrator is left.

Over several weeks, the marshals question friends, relatives, co-workers and acquaintances of the homeowners. In time, the investigation focuses on a former boyfriend of the homeowners' 16-year-old daughter. During the course of several interviews, the young man makes statements that move him from witness to suspect. It is only the marshals' ability to switch from interviewers to interrogators that enable them to obtain the information needed to arrest the arsonist.

Differing Dialogues

Although interviews and interrogations are similar in method and purpose, investigators must always be aware which type of dialogue they are involved in. The simplest way to differentiate between the two is to remember that a witness is interviewed and a suspect is interrogated.

One of the most difficult times in an investigation occurs when there is a crossover (i.e., a witness makes a statement that moves him or her into the suspect category). The investigator must be prepared to make the switch and carry on without losing ground. Certain characteristics are shared by the interview and the interrogation. For both, preparation is key. The investigator should first establish the location of the meeting. If possible, it should be held at the investigator's office, placing him or her in a position of authority.

The room should be free of distractions, containing a desk and two chairs, with the investigator seated a little higher than the subject. The desk and walls should be bare, leaving nothing for the subject to focus on. Windows should be covered. Ideally the room should be painted a strong color, such as green, avoiding aggressive colors (red or orange) as well as relaxing colors (pastels and earth tones). In such a setting the subject is forced to concentrate on the interview, making it easier for the investigator to obtain information.

The investigator must also be prepared physically dressed comfortably, not hungry or thirsty and mentally for the interview or interrogation. The mind must be clear of all distractions and focused on the matter at hand. The investigator also must fully understand the case and what information is being sought. Unless the investigator knows what is needed, the subject may be allowed to ramble, leaving the investigator confused. The attitude of the investigator should be one of professionalism and confidence, remembering that he or she is a fact finder and must remain detached, no matter what is heard.

When these conditions are met, the investigator is prepared to begin the session. In most instances, a one-to-one situation is preferred but there are circumstances that call for a second interviewer for example, when the investigator is male and the subject is female or when a case involves an adult-child relationship. When two interrogators are present they may want to use a "good cop/bad cop" routine to gain the subject's cooperation, although this rarely works on any but first offenders. It is better for the second questioner to remain silent until the interview is complete, then ask for certain points to be cleared up or expounded upon. The idea of two or more persons firing questions at a subject leads only to confusion and is a waste of time.

This content continues onto the next page...