Persuasion does Not Equal Coercion

In the hit TV series, The Office, Lackawanna County part-time Volunteer Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Schrute’s aggressive approach to getting the information he needs to know is makes a lot of us laugh. We know that he sometimes isn’t all “there,” but how many of us recognize that in some ways we believe that our own police forces, investigative teams, and even juries are using these behaviors to get the confessions that they are looking for?  The truth is that persuasion 1) doesn’t have to be aggressive and 2) does not equal coercion.

While we all laugh at what plays out between Dwight and the rest of the office, specifically Michael during Drug Testing as well as in other episodes, the fact is we probably could use a brushing up when it comes to understanding what proper persuasion actually does look like. The fact is TV and movies often play up the aggressive side of interrogations and law enforcement are instructed to behave much differently.

We came across a great piece from Security Management which highlights the key components effective interrogators utilize to elicit answers. So what do law enforcement professionals actually do in order to bring a suspect to tell the truth? Here is just one of those all-important factors.

Tone and Telling the Truth

You may be surprised to see this feature so high on the list, but it’s critical. Maintaining a non-accusatory tone is one of the most important parts of an interrogation. How many times does tone make or break even the simplest of conversations in the home? Imagine being a suspect in a criminal case. You are already on edge and defensive…before you even hear what your interviewer has to say.

Investigators are trained to not ask questions in a forceful way. What’s more the article explains that questions “are not necessarily designed to elicit incriminating information, but rather to give the subject an opportunity to tell their side of the story.”

What does a successful interviewer look like? One who can keep an objective and nonjudgmental attitude throughout while encouraging the subject to do 80 percent of the talking.

In a study on suspect interrogation and specific communication strategies, Jessica Heuback collects research in her thesis Suspect Interrogation and Communication Strategies and Key Personality Constructs to explain the benefits of letting suspects tell their stories:

“Investigators must receive answers to open-ended questions without any type of judgment, reaction, or interruption. By allowing suspects to tell their stories without interruption, investigators fulfill the basic purpose of an interview to obtain information. In order words, it is critical that the interrogator allow the suspect to provide the information, not lead them, and not reveal any unnecessary information about the crime. Suspects tend to reveal information inadvertently when provided an open forum to talk. Competent interrogators should be able to recognize these instances and corroborate with the suspect to secure a confession (Napier, 2002).”

Without first establishing that non-accusatory tone, getting suspects to share their stories is much more challenging.

Help Your Officers Learn How to Strike the Right Tone through Recording 

As you work on ensuring your own department are taking care of their tone, think about the advantages of being able to record your interviews would deliver, including the training opportunities for new members to your team. We’d love to talk more with you about how to do just this. Contact us today for a consultation or a free demo of our digital audio and video recording equipment!

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