By Louis C. Senese
For first responders to a crime scene — whether an investigator or patrol officer — the bait question is an invaluable investigative tool. One of the primary purposes of the bait question is to determine whether or not the subject will change his original statement, alibi or relationship to the crime scene.
The bait question is a non-accusatory question in which the possible existence of incriminating evidence is implied for the purpose of enticing the subject to change or consider changing his original statements. The bait question may be based on real or fictitious evidence.
As an example, let’s say that our subject denies stealing a woman’s purse from the local library at 4:00 p.m. The subject acknowledges that he was at the library during the day but claims that he left at about 2:00 p.m. Later in the day when the subject walked past the library at 5:00 p.m. he was stopped for questioning by the police based on the fact that he very closely resembled the description of the individual whom the victim had seen in the immediate area when her purse was stolen. The bait dialogue would be as follows:
“Lou, you told us that you left the library at two o’clock and later walked past the library at five o’clock. Now, I’m sure that you are aware that there are surveillance cameras throughout the building. Is there any reason why when we finish viewing all of the security videos that we will see you inside the library at about four o’clock? I am not saying that you were involved in taking the woman’s purse, but you know how easy it is to lose track of time. Is it possible that you could be mistaken on the time and were inside the library at around four o’clock?”
If the suspect accepts the implication of the bait question and changes his story to say that he very may well have still been in the library at 4:00 p.m. it would be very suggestive of a deceptive individual. “Well, now that I think about it, I may have still been in the library at four o’clock but honestly, I didn’t take that woman’s purse.” Even if he does not change his story but repeats the question or asks the interviewer to repeat the question, “What was that you said, could you please repeat that question?” he is stalling for time, trying to weigh his options. (Could I have been on video? Should I change my story? If I change my story will it make me look guilty?) This type of delayed response is suggestive of a deceptive individual.
The bait question is actually composed of four components:
• First, the investigator should briefly explain to the subject that evidence regarding the crime is being processed. “Lou, we are in the process of reviewing all of the possible evidence from the crime scene, including cameras, DNA, fibers, fingerprints, etc.”
• Second, incorporate the selected bait, whether real or fictitious, into the question (fingerprints, DNA, surveillance video, phone records, etc.). “Lou, we are in the process of reviewing all of the possible evidence from the crime scene, including cameras, DNA, fibers, fingerprints, etc. When we review the videotape from the security cameras…”
• Third, the bait question should start with phrases such as: “Is it possible…” and “If we were to…” and “Is there any reason why…” Phrasing the bait question in this way presents it as a non-accusatory question. “Lou, we are in the process of reviewing all of the possible evidence from the crime scene, including cameras, DNA, fibers, fingerprints, etc. When we review the videotape from the security cameras, is there any reason why we will see you in the library at about four o’clock?
If the investigator tries to directly confront the subject with evidence (that is fictitious) in an accusatory manner it usually results in a nonproductive argument. “I have you on video in the area.” “Show me.” “I don’t have to.” “You don’t have anything because if you did you wouldn’t be talking to me.”
• Finally, the investigator should conclude the bait question with a face-saver that allows the deceptive subject to change his original statement but at the same time allow him to feel as though he is not making an incriminating statement. “Lou, we are in the process of reviewing all of the possible evidence from the crime scene, including cameras, DNA, fibers, fingerprints, etc. When we review the videotape from the security cameras, is there any reason why we will see you in the library at about four o’clock? Now I’m not saying that you took this lady’s purse but maybe you just were in there longer than you originally thought?”
In the following case illustration, Officer Malloy and his partner are in the second car responding to a 2:00 a.m. call of a burglary in progress at 500 Elm Street. The 911 caller said he observed a pickup truck in the driveway of his vacationing neighbor’s house. These are homes with gravel driveways. Malloy and his partner are approaching the scene three blocks away in the 200 block of Elm at which time they stop two individuals driving a pick-up truck. Both individuals state that they just left their friend’s house at 210 Elm where they were playing cards and deny that they were ever at the house that was burglarized.
If the two were involved in the burglary three blocks away, what evidence might we have? Remember, the evidence could be real or simply plausible.
A. Fingerprints at the scene — Possibly, but the offenders may have been wearing gloves.
B. Testimonial evidence — Is it possible that the offenders told someone of their plans to commit the burglary — possible but questionable.
C. DNA evidence — When someone frequents an area, whether or not wearing gloves, a mask, etc., generally some type of DNA left, i.e., skin cells, cigarette butts, saliva, hair cells, etc. “We will be scanning the house for hair follicles which are unique to each person. I am sure that you have heard of DNA and that is exactly what this is. Is there any reason that we will find any hair follicles inside or even outside of this house that matches your DNA? Now I’m not saying that you broke into the hose but could it be possible that you may have innocently walked by the house at an earlier date?”
D. Tire tracks — The homes in this neighborhood have gravel driveways. “Mike, we are in the process of taking tire tracks from the burglarized house drive. No two vehicles leave the exact imprints of their treads, much like a person’s fingerprints. In other words, all tire tracks are unique to the vehicle they are on. Is there any reason that impressions of your vehicle tire tracks will be found on the driveway of the house that was burglarized? I am not saying you broke into this house but could it be possible that you may have innocently driven on the property my mistake or pulled in to ask for directions?”
E. Footprints — Either of the two may have left footprints around the house (whether or not they did is not important to the bait question as it simply must seem conceivable that they could have). “We will be taking footprint impressions from around the house. As you know, each person has unique fingerprints and each person has unique footprints. Is there any reason your footprints would be found at the house? I am not saying you broke into the house but is it possible that you innocently walked by the house on an earlier occasion?”
F. Eyewitness identification — Is it possible that someone saw the subjects at the house that was burglarized. “We are in the process of talking to the neighbors by the house on the 500 block of Elm. Is there any reason someone would say that they saw you near the house? I am not saying you broke into the house but could it be possible you did walk by earlier that night?”
G. Closed circuit video — It could be suggested that the school across the street from the burglarized house has surveillance video. “As you know, there is a school across the street from the house that was burglarized. We will be viewing the video surveillance cameras from the school — these cameras pan 180 degrees in each direction and record the neighborhood. Is there any reason why we will see you on the video in the 500 block of Elm? Is it possible you were there and it slipped your mind to tell us earlier?”
H. Timeline — Is it possible their alibi witnesses would deny they were with them at the time of the burglary or left before 2:00 a.m. “We will be talking to the guys you were playing cards with. Is there any reason one of them will say that you were not in the house playing cards at 2:00 a.m.? You guys were drinking and sometimes when we drink a little too much we lose track of time. Is it possible you could have left before 2:00 a.m.?”
I. Co-conspirator contradiction — Is it possible the suspected accomplice would contradict his original statements. “We are talking to your buddy right now. Is it possible that he will say that you guys were at the 500 block of Elm tonight; not that you guys broke into the house, but that you just walked by the street?”
J. Cell phone records (both subjects had cell phones) — Two different cell towers are in the area, one operates calls up to the 200 block of Elm, the other over the 200 block of Elm (plausible). — “You guys have cell phones. The area in the 500 block of Elm has a different cell tower than the 200 block. We can look at cell phone’s SIM card and find which cell tower it was locked on throughout the day. Is there any reason your SIM card will show it locked on the 500 block of Elm cell tower? I am not saying you broke into the house, but could it be possible that you innocently walked in that area tonight?”
The above bait questions are demonstrating the various options the investigator has — some are obviously better than the others. It is best to present one or possibly two of the best bait questions. They can be inserted at various times during the subject’s initial questioning at the scene and may be very helpful in identifying a potential suspect.
Asking the subjects specifics regarding their alibis would also be beneficial to the officer/investigator. Out of the presence of each other, ask each of the two who was the biggest winner and loser at the card game, how much each won or lost, ask each one where he sat at the table, what were they drinking — bottles or cans, who was the first to arrive and leave, etc. This would not be a typical bait question but as you can see it will certainly test the truthfulness of the alibi.
Louis C. Senese is vice president of John E. Reid and Associates and has authored the book, Anatomy of Interrogation Themes. Additionally he has published several articles on this topic. He has conducted in excess of 8,000 interviews and interrogations, has trained thousands of local, state and federal investigators worldwide as well as corporate security personnel in interviewing and interrogation. He is a member of the American Polygraph Association and past president of the Illinois Polygraph Society. For further information regarding interviewing and interrogation, as well as Mr. Senese’s book, visit www.reid.com.