Methods of Interrogation: Techniques on Interrogation for Corporate Security

[Editor's note: The following article is excerpted with permission from chapter 22 of the third edition of The Process of Investigation: Concepts and Strategies for Investigators in the Private Sector, published by Butterworth-Heinemann, and authored by Charles Sennewald and John Tsukayama. The book is useful as a reference guide, though the clarity and readability of the book makes it a useful self-study text for any security director or corporate investigator looking to hone his or her skillset. The following section is from a paragraph that was authored by David Zulawski and Douglas Wicklander, and which appeared in Sennewald and Tsukayama's text with permission from Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates.]

There are a number of different ways to conduct an interrogation of a suspect. The interrogator’s selection of an interrogation method often is based on the background of the suspect, amount of evidence available, and possible response of the suspect to the interrogation. In instances where a number of people were acting together to commit the crime it may be useful to have multiple interrogators available to confront all of them at one time. It usually is preferable to conduct the interrogation in a surprise fashion, rather than alerting the suspects that they are going to be questioned.

Preparing for the interrogation requires that the interrogator had sufficient rooms, interrogators, witnesses, and resources to handle the number of suspects involved in the incident. In larger cases, such as organized theft rings, this may become as much of an administrative problem as an interrogational issue.

Factual

In cases where extensive factual information and evidence is available to the interrogator he may elect to use a factual approach. However, when considering whether to use a factual attack the interrogator should evaluate the amount of evidence available and whether or not it should be revealed to the suspect. In some instances revealing the evidence may compromise informants or other ongoing investigations.

The most effective use of evidence is to contradict statements or assertions previously made by the suspect. The interrogator should ask the suspect questions to which he will likely lie to conceal his involvement in the incident. Once the suspect has been sufficiently locked into his story or alibi the interrogator can now begin to dismantle it using the evidence discovered during the investigation.

The evidence is presented in a nonemotional fashion by the interrogator. The interrogator offers a piece of evidence that contradicts a previous statement by the suspect and asks for an explanation from the suspect. The interrogator usually starts with seemingly insignificant pieces of evidence that are at odds with the suspect’s earlier statements. The suspect at first usually will attempt to explain away the evidence until it becomes evident to him that he has been caught as the contradictions mount.

An interrogator using a factual attack generally will get an admission only to the incident he already knows about and not other areas of involvement. The use of facts establishes to the suspect what his area(s) of exposure are and also tells him what the interrogator likely does not know. This then limits admissions into other areas of wrongdoing that were unknown to the interrogator. A second consideration is that using a factual approach alone, without rationalization, means that the suspect must admit to the crime and to the fact that he is a bad person. Combining rationalization with a factual approach often makes it easier for the suspect to confess since he is able to save face.

Classic Emotional

The classic emotional approach to an interrogation does not require the presentation of evidence. In this approach it generally begins with the use of a direct accusation, which accuses the suspect of involvement in a specific issue.

Interrogator: “Our investigation clearly indicates that you are involved in the theft of the missing cargo from the trailer.”

Suspect: “No, I didn’t do that”

Interrogator: “No, there is no question that you did, but what we are here to discuss is the reason why it happened.”

In response to the direct accusation the suspect almost always will deny using an emphatic denial. The suspect often will continue to deny since he has to protect his initial lie. The interrogator will reaccuse the suspect and then immediately turn to rationalization to offer face-saving reasons why the suspect became involved in the incident. It is not unusual for the suspect to interrupt the interrogator’s rationalization to offer another denial. The interrogator must be alert for the behavioral clues associated with a denial so he can interrupt the suspect before he can verbalize one.

If the rationalizations are successful, the suspect’s denials will weaken and become less frequent while his physical posture becomes much more open. As the suspect internalizes the rationalizations he begins to think about confessing. Outwardly the suspect’s physical behavior appears defeated. The head drops, the shoulders round, and the eyes begin to tear as the suspect goes into submission. By observing the suspect’s physical behavior it becomes evident to the interrogator that the suspect is ready to confess.

After carefully observing the suspect’s physical behavior and recognizing that it is associated with confession, the interrogator offers an assumptive question. The assumptive question is designed to make it easier for the individual to confess. Instead of asking, “You did this didn’t you?” the interrogator asks a choice question based on the rationalization. “Did you plan this out or did you do it on the spur-of-the-moment?” The suspect can make one of three responses to this question. He could select either choice or he could continue to deny. Selection of either of the choices is an admission of guilt to the incident under investigation and is supported by the interrogator, “Great, that’s what I thought.”

The interrogator then begins to develop the admission, answering the investigative questions who, where, when, why, and how. The suspect is locked into the details of his crime and the admission is fully developed into a confession. Once this has been adequately developed, the interrogator then goes on to obtain a statement from the suspect to preserve the confession for later use.

Wicklander-Zulawski Non-confrontational Method®

The Wicklander-Zulawski Non-confrontational Method® is a modified emotional appeal. The primary strategy in this approach is to avoid forcing the suspect into a position where he has to deny his involvement, which makes it more difficult for him to confess later. Instead, the Wicklander- Zulawski (WZ) method takes advantage of the three primary reasons why a person confesses and structures the interrogator’s approach to move the suspect from resistance to acceptance without denial.

The first part of the WZ method uses an introductory statement that helps the interrogator convince the suspect that his guilt is known. The interrogator also has an opportunity at this time to observe behavior and identify other areas of criminal activity that the suspect may be involved in. The introductory statement consists of three parts:

  • A description of the security function and its purpose
  • A discussion of the different methods that could be used to cause losses or crimes
  • How investigations are conducted

When adequately done, the introductory statement is a powerful tool to convince the individual that his guilt is known. It also affords the interrogator an opportunity to behaviorally observe the suspect’s responses to a number of different methods of theft or crimes. Many suspects will react behaviorally to methods of theft or crimes that they have committed, allowing the interrogator to gather intelligence relating to the scope of the suspect’s criminal activity. The interrogator then moves through a highly structured planned approach using rationalizations and dealing with internal conflicts in the suspect’s mind. This approach concludes with the use of an assumptive question called a soft accusation. Instead of the choice question, which essentially gives an admission to what was known, the soft accusation asks for an admission that may expand the suspect’s involvement into other areas of theft or criminal activity. The following is an example of the soft accusation.

Interrogator: “When would you say was the very first time that you took money from the company?”

The suspect may make an admission to this question or pause to consider his response. If the suspect pauses the interrogator will use a follow-up question to achieve the first admission.

Interrogator: “Was it your first week on the job?”

Suspect: “No!”

Interrogator: “Great, I didn’t think that was the case.”

The suspect now has admitted stealing money, but denied that it was the first week on the job. The interrogator continues to develop the admission with the suspect confirming theft of cash prior to the missing deposit. In this way the interrogator is more likely to get closer to the true scope of the suspect’s involvement in theft activity than by focusing on the single missing deposit theft of which he was suspected. In the event that the deposit is the sole theft incident the suspect has been involved in, he will confess to that while strongly denying other activities. The interrogator develops the total admission with the suspect and reduces the confession to some permanent form for later use.

There are a number of additional approaches that an interrogator could use to begin the interrogation. These approaches vary in complexity and difficulty so the new interrogator is encouraged to use those described previously before attempting new strategies. More information and examples on these approaches are detailed in the textbook, Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation.

Backing Out

There may be instances where the suspect will not confess to the incident under investigation. The interrogator should be prepared to back out of the interrogation without obtaining an admission.

Prior to backing out the interrogator should present the evidence discovered during the investigation. On occasion the individual may be able to explain the evidence or provide proof of their innocence.

If the suspect cannot provide an adequate explanation for the evidence the interrogation could continue using one of the emotional appeals. Sometimes presenting evidence at this point will cause the suspect to confess or to lie when confronted with it, which may prove damning at some later point. If the suspect still refuses to acknowledge his involvement after presenting the evidence, the interrogation shifts to the suspect’s knowledge or suspicion of who was involved. From there the interrogator either will discuss the individual’s suspicion or talk about why he does not believe why the others were involved.

Another way of backing out of the interrogation is to use the behavioral interview, which allows the suspect to begin to talk. The interrogator asks the questions included in the interview and then slowly draws the encounter to a close.

(Copyright 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved, with copyright 2006 from Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, reprinted with permission of publisher.)

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