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What questions should I ask during the investigative interview?

May / June 2020 (click here for printable version)

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What questions should I ask during the investigative interview?

In an effort to assist investigators in determining the type of investigative and behavior provoking questions to ask during an interview, as well as the themes and alternative questions that can be used if an interrogation is appropriate, we have developed the following information for you to have at your fingertips.

For each of the crimes listed below we will provide you with suggestions as to the type of investigative information to develop during the interview, how to phrase the behavior provoking questions, and if an interrogation is warranted, what themes and alternatives may be appropriate. As an example, here is the information for Arson cases:

Arson

Investigative Information

What is the suspect's alibi?
Are there alibi witnesses?
Can the alibi be objectively verified (surveillance video, incarceration, etc.)?
Could the suspect have hired someone to start the fire?

Financial Motivation

Was the property over-insured or recently insured?
Was there a major upcoming expense with the property?
Were there unusual survivors like a pet, insurance policy or expensive artwork?

Revenge Motivation

Does the suspect know the victim?
How was their relationship?
Did the suspect verbally threaten to harm the victim in any way?
Are there threatening emails to the victim?

Psychological Motivation

Has the suspect started small fires in the past?
How many fires has the suspect personally witnessed in the last 3 years?
What is the suspect's explanation for evidence?
Was the suspect under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the fire?

Behavior Provoking Questions

Purpose: "What is your understanding for the purpose of the interview today?"

You: "Jim, we are investigating the fire that occurred (date/location)." "If you had anything to do with starting that fire you should tell me that now."

Knowledge: "Do you know for sure who did start that fire?"

Suspicion: "Who do you suspect may have started that fire? Any name you give me will not be released back to that person?"

Credibility: "Do you think that fire was started by someone?"

Attitude: "How do you feel about being interviewed concerning this fire?"

Think: "Did you ever just think about starting a fire (at location)?"

Approach: "Has anyone ever approached you about starting a fire?

Happen Before: "Have you ever been questioned before about starting a fire?

Objection: Tell me why you wouldn't start a fire (at location)."

Results: "Once we complete our entire investigation how will it come out on you?"

Punishment: "What do you think should happen to the person who started that fire?"

Second Chance: "Under any circumstances, do you think the person who started that fire deserves a second chance?"

Tell loved one: "Who have you told about your interview today?" "What was (that person's) response?" "At any time did (that person) ask if you started that fire?"

Bait: (surveillance video, footprints, fingerprints)

"Is there any reason why we would (see you outside location of fire on a surveillance video)? I'm not saying you had anything to do with this fire, maybe you were outside for some other reason."

Interrogation Themes

Financial:

Blame poor economy, unfair competition
Blame accomplice for suggesting the fire or pressuring the suspect into starting it
Blame insurance company for raising rates, declining prior claim
Minimize dollar loss

Revenge:

Blame victim for causing the suspect to act out of character
Blame alcohol or drugs for causing poor judgment
Minimize number of fires set
Contrast starting a fire in hopes of killing victim, or just to send victim a message

Psychological:

Blame stress for causing the suspect to act out of character
Blame alcohol or drugs for causing poor judgment
Blame need for attention
Minimize number of fires set

Alternative questions

Financial:

Was this whole thing your idea or did someone suggest the fire to you?
Was that fire set to cover up another crime like a murder or embezzlement or was it just to get the insurance money?
Have you been planning this thing out for months in advance or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?
Did you do this as a get rich scheme or just to break even on your investment?

Revenge:

Did you plan this out for weeks in advance, or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?
Did you do this hoping to kill (her) or just cause a little smoke damage?

Psychological:

Did you do this hoping to kill people or just for excitement because you were bored?
Describe an acceptable reason for starting the fire (to keep warm, to burn brush, etc.)
Have you set dozens of fires all over the county or was it less than that? We're not looking at 12 or 15 fires are we?
Here is the list of crimes that we address in a similar manner:

  • Auto Theft
  • Burglary
  • Child Abuse (sexual)
  • Child Abuse (physical)
  • Credit Card and Check Fraud
  • Disclosure of Proprietary Information
  • Domestic Violence
  • Drug/Narcotic Cases
  • Elder Abuse
  • Embezzlement
  • Employee Theft
  • Environmental Crimes
  • Fabricated Claims (Suspected)
  • Forgery
  • Fraud (Healthcare, Welfare, Insurance)
  • Homicide
  • Identity Theft
  • Juvenile cases
  • Kidnapping
  • Product Tampering
  • Robbery
  • Sabotage
  • Sexual Assault
  • Harassment
  • Smuggling
  • Utility Theft
  • Vandalism

For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to attend a Reid training program, we provide you with an Overview of The Reid Technique. The Reid Technique involves three different components -- factual analysis, interviewing, and interrogation. While each of these are separate and distinct procedures, they are interrelated in the sense that each serves to help eliminate innocent suspects during an investigation, thereby allowing the investigator to focus on the person most likely to be guilty and to interrogate that individual in an effort to learn the truth. We discuss each of these component pieces in detail.

Behavior Symptom Analysis

For over 70 years, John E. Reid and Associates has studied the verbal and nonverbal behavior of verified truthful and deceptive subjects, including conducting two studies for the National Security Agency. From these observations we have developed a database of behaviors that correlate to truth and deception.

Behavior analysis refers to the systematic observation of a suspect's behavioral responses during a structured interview. As discussed previously, the core of the interview consists of asking investigative and behavior provoking questions. The investigator observes and evaluates the verbal and nonverbal behavior symptoms displayed by the subject as he or she answers these questions.

We provide you with a detailed behavioral model of the truthful subject as well as the deceptive individual.

In addition, we detail Best Practices, Core Principles, Legal Updates, and link you to 8 Power Point presentations addressing such issues as How the Courts View the Reid Technique; False Confession Issues and Safeguards; and, The Use of Deception During and Interrogation

All of this information is contained in the Reid App, which has just been update this year, 2020. (Android version should be available in the near future)

You can access helpful information on the go!
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Permission is hereby granted to those who wish to share or copy this article. In those instances, the following Credit Statement must be included "This Investigator Tip was developed by John E. Reid and Associates Inc. 800-255-5747 / www.reid.com." Inquiries regarding Investigator Tips should be directed to Toni Overman toverman@reid.com.