Setting up the interrogation: 5 accusation techniques for investigators

This important phase of the investigation is not the presentation of evidence — it is where we advise the subject that we know (without a doubt) that they committed the crime


The ‘accusation’ is the revelation to the subject that the investigation has identified them as the person responsible for committing the crime. 

This important phase of the investigation is not the presentation of evidence — it is where we advise the subject that we know (without a doubt) that they committed the crime. 

Here are five techniques to accuse a suspect and switch to the interrogation.

1. Authoritative Accusation
This accusation usually comes after you have been talking to the subject about the incident. You are probably in an interview room or office at the department.  You can excuse yourself and leave the room for a few minutes. 

When you return, you remain standing, facing them with a solemn look – not angry, not sad and especially not happy. Have your file in your hand. Standing while the subject is sitting will advance an air of authority over them. 

With eye contact, use an even tone and serious voice. Tell them the investigation has been completed, all the evidence is in and the investigation has overwhelmingly determined they committed the crime.

2. Distraught Accusation
You have been talking to the subject and  concluded this person committed the crime. This method starts with you sitting down, in the room, facing them. Break eye contact. Look busy sifting through the files, and pause a moment as if you are thinking – the same way a friend would pause before delivering bad news. They will be watching you. Look up and reestablish eye contact. Try to convey the expression of a troubled friend, concerned for their well-being. Push the file off to the side with your hand resting on it. Remember to use a solemn look and good eye contact, as well as an even tone and serious voice. 

Tell the subject the investigation has been completed, all the evidence is in and the results are conclusive. The investigation has overwhelmingly determined they are the one that committed the crime. 

3. Indirect Accusation
You are convinced the person is the perpetrator of the crime, but you are afraid they will leave or ask for an attorney if you use a direct accusation. Put aside your file, perhaps sigh or otherwise contemplate what you are about to say.

Praise them — tell them you appreciate all the help they have given you. Emphasize how you have been working the case, talking to everyone and examining the evidence. Point out that as of yet, you have not been able to eliminate them from suspicion and it looks like they may know more than they have been willing to share up to this point. Maintain good eye contact with a serious and questioning look. The hard part here is to be quiet. 

This will give them an opportunity to think. They don’t know what you have as evidence and they will begin to question you. Do not give up your evidence, but let them sell you on the idea of why they did not do it. Let them talk — in so doing, you give them the opportunity to slip up.

4. Overwhelming Evidence Accusation 
This technique is most common on police TV shows, but can work in real life under the right circumstances. In this method of delivering the accusation, you will be selling the subject on the overwhelming evidence that the subject did, in fact, commit the crime.

As you start, you should adopt a matter-of-fact demeanor. Be confident in your presentation and the investigation. The hard part is to sell the results of the investigation without giving away your evidence. 

List possible evidence — we have prints, we have video, we have tracks, we have trace evidence, we have witnesses, we have DNA... 

Present the strength of your force — we have dozens of officers and investigators, we have forensic experts, we have interviewed everyone you may know, your family, your friends, people at work and so on. 

Then look directly at the subject, in a solemn manner, with a serious voice, and tell him that all this evidence points to one thing: without a doubt, you committed the crime. 

5. Rational Accusation
This method is presented in a more rational, logical approach. You will be looking for more participation from the subject. As you present your investigation, you will have the subject acknowledge what you have said. In essence, you will be leading the subject down the garden path to the green house. 

With each thing you point out, have him acknowledge it. The subject does not need to agree with you, only acknowledge that you said it. You may say something like:

“You have heard of DNA evidence, haven’t you?” 

The subject should say ‘yes.’ State you recovered blood from the scene. You know that footprints can be used in cases, don’t you? You know there are video cameras everywhere, don’t you? Keep piling on the references with a confirming nod from the subject. When you get to the end of the path, there is the green house. 

Then, just as you do in other methods, look directly at the subject, in a solemn manner, with a serious voice, and tell him that all this evidence points to one thing: without a doubt, you committed the crime. 

The Switch
After we accuse the person, we switch from accuser to understanding friend. Tell them, “I know you did it, I just want to know why.” The idea is to convince them you know they did it so they will try to tell their side and justify their actions. 

Go into your interrogation strategies using “RPM.” 

Rationalize: Everyone does it. 
Project: It is someone else’s fault. 
Minimize: It is no big deal, no one was hurt. 

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