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The Subject Specific Interview Approach

Stan B. Walters

In recent years several behavioral science experts have focused their research efforts on reviewing hundreds of investigative interviews and interrogations. There have been two goals of some of these studies. One has been to determine how successful the interviewers are at accurately identifying and analyzing the behavioral signs of deception. The second has been to gain greater insight into the investigative interviewing process and learn why some interviewers and their methods are more successful than others. The results of these studies have been both surprising and enlightening in several ways. First, investigative interviewers generally do a poor job of spotting deception more than 50% of the time and frequently use behaviors to identify deception that have consistently been proven to be highly unreliable signs of deception. This will be the topic of a future “The Interview Room” article. Second, the interviewing tactics often taught and practiced by most interviewers generate the lowest number of incidents of admissions and confessions. Despite what most of us as interviewers claim, we are in fact only successful at getting admissions and confessions about one-third of the time.

Two critical studies of the investigative interviewing process utilized the videotapes of nearly 1,000 interviews and interrogations. The findings from these two studies will be surprising to many experienced and seasoned interviewers but when considered thoughtfully the results make perfect sense. The two studies identified a multitude of interview and interrogations methods, techniques and strategies from numerous training sources and experts. Each method was documented when it was used in any of the taped interviews and then correlated with how frequently an admission or confession occurred. Many of the “tried and true” tactics that we as investigative interviewers swear by produce consistently poor results. The one utstanding characteristic of the consistently successfully interview was the one that was “subject specific.” By “subject specific” I mean that the interview dialogue and presentation of proof of evidence to the subject was based on the unique social, psychological, and personal history of the subject who was being interviewed. It was consistently demonstrated that techniques that may have proven successful on some subjects was totally ineffective with others. When the interviewer based his interview approach solely on a strict formula there would be a greater chance of failure. When the interviewer recognized the unique individual characteristics of each subject he was highly likely to be successful. Both studies demonstrated that this approach was associated with and admission or confession more than 90% of the time.

The key element in Practical Kinesic Interview & Interrogation® – Tactical Interrogation Phase is to recognize that personality, personal history of past experiences and the individuals unique thinking process is what makes each of us different from each other. When the interviewer recognizes the unique combination of these factors for each subject and approaches the interview accordingly he or she will dramatically improve their admission and confession rate. The investigative interviewer must learn to perceive the incident from the subject’s point of view. What would motivate him or her to commit the act – not what would motivate you or the last subject you interviewed act in such a manner. After allowing the subject to narrate his version of the events, point out to inconsistencies in the story and contradictions between the story and the evidence. Learn to identify what the subject believes they could lose by continuing their deception and what in the long run that they can gain by accepting responsibility for their actions in such a manner that they feel they will have some control in the outcome.

A frequent point we try to make in Practical Kinesic Interview & Interrogation® is first, to remember to interview the subject who committed the crime and not the crime that was committed. Second, stop interviewing the subject from a preset “game plan” – adjust your dialogue to the subject’s responses and behavior you see and hear during the interview. Finally, stop talking to the subject as if you are talking to yourself – he ain’t you!


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