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What's your suspect interview strategy? 10 steps to stay on track

There is an art to questioning; cops should follow these 10 suggestions to stay ahead of the game


One of the easiest ways to gather information is to just ask. Of course, when interviewing a suspect, police officers must know how, when and what to ask for. Here are 10 considerations to improve your suspect interview strategy:

1. Know if Miranda is required

The most important aspect of questioning a suspect is knowing when you must provide a Miranda warning. Failure to understand when to provide Miranda could mean everything you skillfully gather is for naught. Avoid this major pitfall. Get a working knowledge of this ruling so your first step during questioning will always be in your favor.

The most important aspect of questioning a suspect is knowing when you must provide a Miranda warning. (Photo/Tony Webster via WikiCommons)
The most important aspect of questioning a suspect is knowing when you must provide a Miranda warning. (Photo/Tony Webster via WikiCommons)

2. Understand body language

Someone skilled in body language interpretation during interviewing and interrogation can be more accurate than a polygraph. Since this is specialized training, independent study is required. Learn how the eyes react to questions. In general, when a person looks to the right they are constructing an idea, and potentially a lie, and when they look to the left side they are recalling something that actually happened. Analyze body language as you ask and develop further questions.

3. Ask simple questions

I have always used a simple line of questioning to produce a certain response. When asking about a driver’s license, simply ask when their license was last suspended, not if it is currently suspended.  “When’s the last time you were arrested?” is a better question than “Have you ever been arrested?” If you believe you were given a false name, after doing a records check under that name, create a story about a warrant existing under that false name.

4. Be state savvy

Get a copy of Social Security numbers by state. This has limited but possibly important information in someone’s background. With this knowledge you can ask if someone was ever in a certain state, if they say no, and the number comes back to that state, you got them possibly in a lie. Of course, if their parents obtained that number while they were an infant, then this is a dead end. Since people are a bit transient, run them in any previous states they might have lived. Many people get a new driver’s license while they are under suspension in one state from another state.

5. Ask permission to search

When doing this, remember the Miranda factor, and even tell them they have the right to refuse.

6. Get them to spell it out

Have them spell their name, their address and their mother’s maiden name if it will help your case. Ask for an age and then a year of birth. They better match.

7. Separate suspects

Question each individual on the scene separately. Compare stories and check facts. Switch facts around and ask again. Lies are hard to hold together over a period of time. Play one against the other. See how they react to one giving the other up and trying to make a deal. Take notes and use pauses to your advantage. Turn the room heat up.

8. Remember, it’s fair game in the back of the squad

Also, it is permissible to have a hidden tape recorder in your police vehicle. Multiple suspects can be placed in the back seat at the same time. There is no expectation of privacy in a police vehicle. Anything said is far game.

9. Don’t show all your cards

I had arrested a small group of Hispanic drug dealers, but we could not locate their stash and our drug dog was on another call. They claimed they did not speak English. I requested an officer to respond to translate for us while all the officers were in the room. After that, I told all the officers to leave the room leaving only one officer behind. This officer was present before we had the translator on scene. After we left – including the translator – the suspects began talking to each other about all the drugs. The officer I left behind to watch them looked like a good ol’ boy from down south, but he spoke perfect Spanish. When we came back into the room, our good ol’ boy led us right to the stack of kilos.

10. Ask who the drugs are for

One line of questioning I used when a suspect was arrested for narcotics was to ask the suspect if the drugs in their possession were purchased for themselves or to be sold. I made it clear that they were in possession, so the argument of not being in possession was fruitless. I gave them a chance to claim possession either as personal for themselves or to be sold. Most times, in their mind, selling drugs is a more serious crime than mere possession, so they simply stated the drugs were for them.

There is an art to questioning and this was just a brief introduction. Share your tips, tricks and techniques in the comment box below.

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