Research On When To Reveal Information To Suspects. Professor Ray Bull. 2. Benefits of recording interviews. As we all know, one of the several benefits of recording interviews with suspects is that such recordings can tell us much about how to continue to try to improve interviewing.
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Research On When To Reveal Information To Suspects
Professor Ray Bull
As we all know, one of the several benefits of recording interviews with suspects is that such recordings can tell us much about how to continue to try to improve interviewing.
Around the world, due to perceived substantial improvements in England and Wales (as illustrated, for example, by published research) more and more countries are becoming very interested in conducting such recordings (e.g. Japan, the USA).
In 2002 Holmes (formerly of the Miami Police Department) published a book entitled Criminal interrogation: A modern format for interrogating suspectsin which he stated once a suspect had confessed that a “formal confession should be taken without delay while a suspect is in a cooperative mood” (p.115).
He also recommended that this post-interrogation/interview formal confession be audio or video recorded, even though he noted that “There is, however, one major drawback ….. In court, the investigator is invariably asked ….. ‘Why didn’t you record the entire interview of the defendant?’ ”.
He stated that “I never felt entirely comfortable answering that question. I never said it, but I often wanted to say ‘I didn’t want to give you a sword you could stick in me’ ” (p.116).
Some of you will already know that soon after audio-tape recording became common practice in England and Wales (i.e. after 1986) a small number of studies were conducted. For example,
However, Baldwin (1993) reported that of the 600 audio or video recorded interviews conducted in the late 1980s that he analysed, “most were short and surprisingly amiable discussions in which it often seemed that officers were rather tentative in putting allegations to a suspect. .....Indeed in almost two-thirds of all cases.....no serious challenge was made by the interviewers to what the suspect was saying”.
Baldwin also found that “Even when the suspect denied the allegation, no challenge was made by the interviewers in almost 40 per cent of cases”.
In fact “Over a third of all suspects admitted culpability from the outset”, perhaps because of the police strategy then of revealing to suspects at the beginning of the interview all of the evidence the police had against them. (If the evidence is strong some people confess.)
In only 20 of the 600 interviews Baldwin examined did suspects “change their story in the course of an interview. In only nine of these cases was the change of heart attributable to the persuasive skills of the interviewer, and even here only three involved offences of any seriousness..... The great majority of suspects stick to their starting position - whether admission, denial, or somewhere in between - regardless of how the interview is conducted”.
Pearse (a senior detective) and Gudjonsson (1996) also noted (in their study of interviews conducted in 1991) that rarely did suspects in their interviews change from denying to admitting the offence. They contended that “suspects enter a police interview having already decided whether to admit or deny the allegations against them” and that police interview techniques have minimal effects on whether an admission occurs.
(Recent research which casts doubt on this 1990s contention regarding suspects’ views.)
The belief that perpetrators will deny being involved in serious wrong-doing and will not willingly admit/confess has not benefitted from research on the views of offenders themselves.
However, recent research involving offenders suggests that only a minority enter the police interview/interrogation with their mind set on denial.
For example, in Australia Kebbell, Hurren, and Mazerolle (2006) found
Other recent research from Canada, Sweden, the USA has produced similar findings.
Moston, Stephenson, and Williamson (1992) found that in the majority of several hundred taped interviews the police spent little time, if any, trying to obtain the suspects’ accounts of events. Instead they accused the suspects of the offence and asked for their response to such accusations. (See also McConville & Hodgson, 1993.)
Moston et al. noted that typically suspects were straightaway accused of the crime and informed, early on, of the information possibly incriminating them. They found, not surprisingly, that when the evidence was strong confessions were more likely. When the police information was not strong the suspects soon became aware of this and, understandably, did not confess.
The studies that we have so far mentioned all concerned interviews conducted before a major change in police interviewer training occurred in England and Wales. Indeed such studies partly brought about the change.
This change (of course) was the ‘PEACE’ approach and training courses (booklets = 127,000) which began in 1992 and which contains much research-based psychology (see Milne & Bull, 1999).
Today I am going to focus on the Account aspect of the PEACE approach.
In the mid and late 1990s, as far as one could tell, although the importance of the account phase was emphasised (especially with regard to what not to do in it – for example ask closed questions too soon, interrupt, etc.), there was not a strong focus then in PEACE training upon ‘challenging’ the suspect.
(Perhaps because of an ‘over-belief’ in those days concerning what the Criminal Evidence ACT of 1984 actually had sought to eradicate from the interviewing/interrogating of suspects.)
However, over time the emphasis on ‘challenging’ skilfully has been growing here in England and Wales. For example, at the end of the 1990s our research found that there was frequent use of
Although ‘challenging’, ‘disclosure of possibly incriminating information’, and ‘emphasising contradictions’ occurred in many interviews, these important skills were not all frequently being used in interviews in which suspects moved from denying to admitting/confessing. (See the next slide.)
Time period relative to confessing
(a) = two time periods prior; (b) = immediately prior time period; (c) time period of confession
Disclosure of information 31 40 39
Open questions 38 40 40
Repetitive questions 26 33 26
Leading questions 21 26 21
Handling mood 20 28 24
Contradictions 18 23 15
Positive confrontation 14 24 20
Interruptions 14 16 15
Silence 8 11 10
Challenge account 11 9 3
Suggest scenario 3 5 6
Gentle prods 3 7 5
Concern 2 2 2
Situational futility 0 1 1
Because these important skills were not all frequently being used, our recently completed three-year programme of research (funded by the EPSRC and CPNI) had a major focus on how best/when to ‘challenge’ (as had some just-prior research in Sweden).
In 2007 in Sweden Granhag, Stromwall, and Hartwig emphasised that investigative interviewers often have available to them some potentially incriminating information regarding the suspect whom they are about to interview. (Indeed, we might add, that this is one of the main the reasons why people become suspects.) However, Granhag et al. stated that
(i) little research has been conducted on how such information is, or could be, used during interviews, and
(ii) “most interviewing and interrogation manuals were (and still are) silent on this issue”.
These Swedish psychologists conducted a research study to examine if the strategic use during interviews of potentially incriminating information would result in interviewers being better able to discriminate who was lying to them from who was telling the truth. Their study was not of ‘real-life’ investigative interviews but involved as ‘suspects’ students who had or had or had not committed a brief mock theft at the request of the researchers. The strategic use of information during the interviews (the ‘SUE- technique’) involves the following
(i) the planning of the interviews during which the interviewers seek out potentially incriminating information from the case files (and other sources).
(ii) the interview should initially have a free recall phase, before the questioning phase, during which suspects are encouraged to provide relevant information. (This phase is similar to the account phase of the British PEACE approach.)
(iii) when the free recall phase has finished, then a questioning phase commences in which the interviewer poses questions relating to the potentially incriminating information that the interviewer possesses but without revealing such information to the suspect.
This phase is similar to the ‘challenge account’ aspect of the PEACE approach and is one of the tactics/skills that ‘early’ research on (tape recorded) English police interviewing found to be missing once legislation had been brought in to seek to outlaw coercive interviewing.
This Swedish research suggests that wherever possible (e.g. with suspects who are willing, or who can be motivated to provide relevant information, and where effort has been made by interviewers to gather much relevant information pre-interview) an approach of this type should be employed.
However, in their study what the truth-tellers and liars did in the event in question only slightly differed and thus only 3 pieces of possibly incriminating information were available to the interviewers.
Also the part of the event that the liars were instructed to lie about only lasted about a minute. Thus it was easy for the interviewers to reveal these 3 pieces all at once near to the very end of the interview (and doing this probably did not during the interview increase much the ‘cognitive load’ on the suspects).
Our very recent research introduces a new TACTICAL interview condition (part of the ‘GRIMACE’ approach – see below) in which the interviewer in a planned way gradually lets the suspect know about each ‘piece’ of relevant information that the interviewer has available.
(i) Gathering reliable information/evidence before interviewing,
(ii) Motivating a ‘free recall’ Account from the suspects, and then
(iii) During the questioning phase Challenging Effectively (i. e. gradually/incrementally) the suspect (using the information to point out contradictions etc.) about what the suspect has so far said.
Early - (Baseline) potentially incriminating information presented together in the initial stages of the interview procedure, before asking suspects for a free account (what some police in the UK used to do and is still done in several countries)
Late- (Strategic - SUE) potentially incriminating information presented at the end of the interview procedure (Hartwig et al., 2006)
Gradual - (Tactical - GRIMACE) planned but gradual presentation of potentially incriminating information, after a free account, toward the end of the questioning phase
Participants took part in a very engaging, hour-long task either as builders (who largely told the truth in their subsequent interviews) or as terrorists (who largely lied in the interviews).
They were then interviewed (by an experienced police officer) in order to try to determine whether they were in fact a builder or a terrorist. These interviews were vide recorded (and lasted about 20 minutes).
After their interview participants were asked to indicate:
(Terrorists and builders both equally and highly motivated.)
Cognitive demand - builders and terrorists reported that both ‘late’ and ‘gradual’ were more demanding than the ‘early’.
For terrorists – ‘gradual’ was reported as the most cognitively demanding.
Ten police officers and ten non-police officers each viewed 30 entire interviews (ten from each of the three information disclosure types/conditions - five builders and five terrorists).
For each interview they were asked to decide whether the interviewee was being deceptive or not.
Police 66% correct
Lay persons 54%
Police 61 % correct
Thus, in our first study when the police officers watched interviews in which the revealing of information was gradual (in the questioning phase) their average success rate was 74% (which is much higher than the chance rate of 50%).
Terrorists’ rating of the deceptiveness they achieved was much greater for the ‘early’ disclosure interviews than for the ‘late’ or our ‘gradual’.
‘Builders’ and ‘terrorists’ found both the ‘gradual’ and ‘late’ disclosure interviews more cognitively demanding than the ‘early’.
‘Terrorists’ found ‘gradual’ disclosure interviews to be the most cognitively demanding.
(This replicates the findings of our first study.)
These very experienced interviewers achieved the following levels of performance regarding their interviews
for ‘terrorists’ for ‘builders’
early = 53% early = 47%
late = 64% late = 42%
gradual = 73% gradual = 66%
(The average detection levels achieved for our ‘gradual’ style of information revelation of 69.5% in this second study and 74% in our first study are among the highest ever found in the research literature.)
Regarding those interviews for which the interviewers reported relying on/using only non-verbal (i.e. visual) behaviour (i.e. for about one third of their interviews) the detection rate was below the chance level of 50%.
Regarding those interviews for which the interviewers reported relying on/using only verbal behaviour (i.e. for about another of their interviews) the detection rate was above the chance level at 70%.
Regarding those interviews for which the interviewers reported relying on/using both on verbal behaviour and non-verbal behaviour (i.e. for about another third of their interviews) the detection rate was 63%.