Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The Do’s and Don’ts of Interrogating a Suspect
According to Detective Sergeant Joe Giacalone, Commanding Officer of a New York City Cold Case Squad, the guilty always sleep. Literally. The instant they sit down in the interrogation room, they put their heads down and fall asleep. And, while there’s no scientific evidence to explain this behavior, it’s become part of police lore and something not to be ignored.
Detective Giacalone shared this insight along with many others at a recent meeting of the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime. Wanting to make sure our group of mystery and crime writers would get it right, he described the interrogation process from setting up the room, or ”the box”, to arresting and booking the suspect.
The interrogation is the last part of the investigation, conducted after all the interviews and canvassing of witnesses is completed. The goal in this psychological game of cat and mouse is to get an admission or confession.
The box is small. Very small. With no windows, clock, posters or any distractions. The suspect’s chair is hard and he is seated with his back to the door … another psychological ploy that helps preclude the thought of being able to walk away a free man.
An interrogation is not a fishing expedition. It’s meant to test information the police already know. At this point, based on physical evidence and eyewitness reports, as well as means, opportunity and motive, they are sure they have the right person for the crime. The case investigator is the one who asks the questions and an associate takes notes. Once the suspect is taken into custody and Mirandized, the questioning can begin.
According to Detective Giacalone, it’s important to keep the suspect talking and not do anything that will close him down. The detective may ask open-ended questions such as: “Do you know why you’re here?” and let the suspect tell the story his own words, or ask close-ended questions, such as: “Where were you on such and such a date?” to establish a time frame. One strategy is to ask the suspect to repeat his story backward. It’s a good way to tell if he’s lying.
Investigators can lie and use trickery but cannot fabricate information. Telling a suspect that his fingerprints were found a scene is fine, but showing him actual false fingerprints is not acceptable.
Investigators are also careful to avoid words that could upset or stun a suspect.
Instead of saying “murdered”, “raped” or “killed”, they substitute phrases such as “something happened”, “someone got hurt”, or they’ll talk about “the incident”.
If you want to know more about how to conduct a true-to-life investigation for your story or novel, grab a copy of Detective Giacalone’s book: Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators.