7 types of witnesses and how to interview them
Considering these seven types of witnesses before going into your investigation can maximize the results of your interviews
Witnesses can be broken into seven major groups based on the way they respond to the investigator during the initial investigation. Considering these factors will help in guiding your interview strategy.
1. Honest and Cooperative
This witness should be interviewed first. It is a person that has information and is willing to give it. Contrary to popular opinion, there are witnesses that are honest and willing to cooperate. However, a cautious investigator will be sure and clarify why the witness is cooperative — that he or she has no hidden motives.
Once you have determined the person is honest and cooperative you should ensure that you obtain all of the information they have. You should carefully compare their information to the information gathered from other people. Even the honest witness may make mistakes in perception.
2. Silent, Know-Nothing, or Disinterested
This is a difficult witness to interview — they don't want to get involved. The initial response is to write down their name and let them go without getting a statement. You should try, using proper interview techniques, to open them up and get them to talk to you.
If they have nothing to offer or refuse to help, at least obtain a “know nothing statement" from them — a statement that states briefly where they were and that they did not see or hear what happened. This will prevent them from coming back later with a different or deceptive story.
3. Reluctant or Suspicious
This is a witness that has information on your case but is reluctant to share it with you. They don't want to get involved for a variety of reasons such as a fear of contact with law enforcement, fear of retribution from the neighborhood or the perpetrators.
It is up to the investigator to use psychological strategies to get the witness to open up and give information. A good investigator can often get this type of witness to cooperate.
4. Bashful or Timid
The bashful or timid witness is a witness that may be the victim of violent criminal act (especially sex crimes), may be foreign to this country, and unsure of talking to the police, or just leery of talking to the police. The investigator must be sensitive to the subject’s needs by showing interest, sincerity and a desire to help. Take your time to establish a rapport which will often lead to a statement.
5. Hostile and Deceitful
This witness deliberately attempts to impede the investigation by lying. Once we determine a person is lying we should examine the motives behind the deceit; such as relationship to principals involved or perhaps a dislike for police. Once we determine the motivation for the deception it may point back to a person of interest. It is more difficult to decipher but may guide us to a valuable lead.
6. Talkative or Boastful
This is the witness that not only is ready and willing to cooperate and give you information, they enjoy being involved in the police investigation. Your informants and snitches belong in this category.
However, be aware that any person may be a closet braggart wanting to get involved and be a part of what is going on. This person can be a valuable but dangerous witness — valuable in their willingness to give you information, dangerous in that what they give you may not be the truth or may be embellished to meet whatever need drives them to come forward and be involved.
The witness may want to look good, brave, heroic, or just be a part of the action. They may want to get their name in the paper. This may be their opportunity to get their shot at 15 minutes of fame. The investigator must evaluate the information carefully and make sure the witness has not exaggerated their part or knowledge about the incident.
7. Under The Influence
It is not unusual to have intoxicated witnesses. I am referring to the person that has had a few drinks but is still coherent and can communicate. What about the reliability of their information — is what they’re saying true? The answer is generally yes.
When a person is drinking, they are freed of their inhibitions and are inclined to talk more freely to other people, including law enforcement. The person will often share personal and intimate information they normally would not reveal to others. When you get this information, it is usually the truth.
This factor, that an intoxicated person will tell the truth, has long been understood back to ancient times. There is an old Latin saying, “In Vino, Veritas” — “In Wine, Truth.”
As a fan of the Beverly Hillbillies, I like the quote from Granny Clampet, “Liquor don’t tell no lies.”
The bottom line is consumption of alcohol will generally cause a subject to open up and talk, and when the subject talks, the information is usually true.