Without Police Interview Training—Can Victims Actually Become Suspects?

In order to uphold the mission “to protect and to serve,” agencies must to remain up-to-date on all of the latest best practices for public safety. Continuous training is a critical part of effective policing. That’s why agencies make commitments to complete various types of ongoing educational programs every year.

Professionalism is paramount to keeping our communities safe, and we never want anyone to doubt the legitimacy of an investigation. Unfortunately, the potential for human error or lack of understanding can cause a terrible situation to spiral into something even more traumatic.

The Risk of Doubting Victims

Our justice system is rooted in evidence. We’re not interested in making arrests or convicting individuals for alleged crimes without a clear, legitimate evidence and the burden of proof.

Determining the outcome of a case often hinges on the interviews and interrogations that are provided to the court. A victim’s testimony or a suspect’s confession obviously hold a lot of weight! So naturally, the process of conducting a reliable and strategic police interrogation is incredibly complex. And things only get trickier when the investigations are more sensitive.

Sexual assault cases and other investigations that are connected with trauma can introduce new challenges for victims and investigators alike. One particularly troubling account, shared by Connecticut Public, involves a sexual assault victim who encountered doubt from an investigator after she reported a rape to police. This situation eventually led to her own arrest.

According to the incident report, the officer believed she left out details in her testimony about what had happened. Filing a false police report is serious crime, but the act of filing a false report without sufficient evidence can be even more despicable. Without the appropriate training on interviewing trauma survivors, though, these types of hiccups in the justice system may end up becoming far too common.

Police Training for Trauma Awareness

To understand more about these claims, Connecticut Public’s investigative journalistic unit, The Accountability Project (TAP), reached out to Justin Boardman. He’s a retired police officer who provides training for trauma-informed investigations into sexual assault. After reviewing the context of the false reporting arrest, Boardman said that he thinks the detective did not gather enough evidence.

The challenge here may be that some officers lack the appropriate training for interviewing trauma survivors. These types of investigations are inherently different from suspect interrogations. In an effort to uphold the law and direct resources toward resolving legitimate cases, the victims, and the people connected with the victims, may not be receiving the level of support and attention they require.

It’s important for agencies to realize that there are no typical reactions to sexual assault. But this can be hard to understand for officers who are typically entrenched with suspect interrogations. Training for trauma-informed interview practices can help bridge those gaps.

Meeting the Need with Community Partnerships

In order to foster trust and credibility in law enforcement, police departments must stay attuned to the evolving needs and expectations of the communities they serve. Often, the easiest way to move these initiatives forward is to connect with other local leaders

Regularly training with SART professionals and advocacy centers can help police agencies practice the skills they need to become even more effective in their line of work. There is certainly a lot of ground to cover for trauma-informed interviewing. The sooner agencies can dedicate more attention to this aspect of police training, the better.

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