The Reid Technique of interviewing and interrogation involves three different components -- factual analysis, interviewing, and interrogation. While each of these are separate and distinct procedures, they are interrelated in the sense that each serves to help eliminate innocent suspects during an investigation, thereby allowing the investigator to focus on the person most likely to be guilty and to interrogate that individual in an effort to learn the truth. Supporters argue the technique is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects, while critics have charged the technique can elicit false confessions from innocent persons. The term "Reid technique" is a registered trademark of the firm John E. Reid and Associates, which offers training courses in the method. The technique is widely used by law-enforcement agencies in North America.
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On December 14, , Darrel Parker came home for lunch from his job as a forester in Lincoln, Nebraska. A recent graduate of Iowa State, he had moved to Lincoln with his wife, Nancy, who worked as a dietician for a flour-and-noodle company and had a cooking show on the local television station. He found her dead in their bedroom. Her face was battered, her hands and feet were bound, and a cord had been knotted around her neck. The medical examiner later determined that she had been raped before the murder.
Parker called the police and spent the next several days in a fog of grief and sedation. Several days later, while mourning with her family, he got a call from the attorney for Lancaster County, Nebraska. There was some new information, the attorney said, and he asked if Parker could come in and help with the investigation.
When Parker arrived, he was led into a windowless room and introduced to a large, well-dressed man named John Reid. Reid was a former Chicago street cop who had become a consultant and polygraph expert. He had developed a reputation as someone who could get criminals to confess. Rather than brutalize suspects, as police often did in those days, he used modern science, combining his polygraphic skills with an understanding of human psychology.
Reid hooked Parker up to the polygraph and started asking questions. As the hours wore on, Reid began to introduce a story. Nancy refused to give Parker the sex that he required, and she flirted with other men. One day, in a rage, Parker took what was rightfully his. After nine hours of interrogation, Parker broke down and confessed. He recanted the next day, but a jury found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. He hired new employees, took on more clients, and developed more sophisticated methods of questioning.
Today, John E. The company says that the people it trains get suspects to confess eighty per cent of the time. A growing number of scientists and legal scholars, though, have raised concerns about Reid-style interrogation. Of the three hundred and eleven people exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, more than a quarter had given false confessions—including those convicted in such notorious cases as the Central Park Five.
But false confessions, which often lead to these convictions, are not rare, and experts say that Reid-style interrogations can produce them. It lasted three days and cost five hundred and eighty dollars. There were about forty people in the class—mostly police officers, federal agents, and private security workers. The instructor, Lou Senese, joined the firm in , shortly after he graduated from college, and is now a vice-president. A middle-aged Chicagoan who resembles a less edgy Dan Ackroyd with glasses, he has the manner of an affable salesman.
He mixed lessons in interrogation with homespun stories about how he used his training to outwit a car dealer, and how his daughters used it to manipulate him. The hallmark of lying is anxiety, he said, and interviewing therefore involves watching for signs of anxiety and occasionally causing it. The Reid Technique begins with the Behavior Analysis Interview, in which you determine whether the suspect is lying.
Is there any reason that your DNA would turn up there? He showed us footage of a dark-haired woman being questioned about having changed her prescription for oxycodone from ten pills to forty.
She gave equivocal answers, touched her face, and cast her eyes down and to the left. In another video, a bearded bank-robbery suspect sighed and shrugged while giving meandering answers. When the kid paused to rub his eye, Senese turned and shot us a look. If you decide that the suspect is lying, you leave the room and wait for five minutes.
Then you return with an official-looking folder. You remain standing to establish your dominance. The next phase—Interrogation—involves prodding the suspect toward confession. Whereas before you listened, now you do all the talking. If the suspect denies the accusation, you bat it away. Having headed off denials, you steer the subject toward a confession by offering a face-saving alternative. In the case of the woman who tampered with her oxycodone prescription, you can suggest that the dentist did not give her enough pain pills and that she only wanted to save a trip to the pharmacy.
No matter how repugnant the crime, he told us, you can come up with a rationalization that makes it easier for the suspect to admit it. The standard Reid Technique manual, first published in and now in its fifth edition, suggests a way an interviewer can minimize rape:.
Joe, no woman should be on the street alone at night looking as sexy as she did. You can further lower barriers to confession by presenting the crime as the lesser of two evils. Was this your idea or did your buddies talk you into it? Did you use that money for drugs or to help feed your kids? You watch for reactions from the suspect.
You expand on themes that trigger the right response. It can take minutes or hours. When the suspect finally admits to the crime, you praise him for owning up and press for corroborating details. Then you work together to convert the admission into a full, written confession. If he seems to have trouble remembering the details, you can present multiple-choice questions. Where did you enter the house: the front, the back, through a window?
As a finishing touch, you introduce some trivial mistakes into the document, which the suspect will correct and initial. That will show the court that the suspect understood what he was signing. After three days of Reid training, my classmates and I, newly versed in the subtleties of body language, gestured carefully in the hall and elevators, lest we unintentionally give something away.
At the end, Senese gave us our certificates and left us with some closing remarks. From what he had taught us, we knew he was lying. Thirty-five years ago, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology named Saul Kassin began researching the psychological factors that affect jury decisions. He noticed that whenever a confession was involved, every juror voted guilty. Kassin read the U. It was filled with assertions with no empirical proof. He believes that the Reid Technique is inherently coercive.
At this point, short-term thinking takes over. Confession opens something of an escape hatch, so it is only natural that some people choose it. In the mid-nineteen-nineties, Kassin devised an experiment to explore how easy it was to induce false confessions. Two students would sit at a table with a computer. One student, an accomplice of the researchers, would read individual letters from a chart for the other to type, at varying speeds. The experimenter would warn the students not to hit the Alt key—hitting it would cause the computer to crash.
The computer was programmed to crash sixty seconds after the experiment began, and the experimenter would angrily ask the participants if they had hit the forbidden key.
These conditions gave a baseline confession rate, after which various Reid tactics were used to see which ones provoked additional false confessions. The first time Kassin tried the experiment, with seventy-five participants, the students were so intimidated by the accusatory question that about a quarter of them signed the confession. When the experimenter added false incrimination—instructing the accomplice to say that he had seen the subject hit the Alt key—the rate of false confession nearly doubled.
The experimenter told subjects that their keystrokes had been recorded on the server and would be available for verification. The tactic more than tripled the rate of false confession. A few students—confederates of the researchers—were told to become noticeably upset while working alone. Inevitably, some students helped their partners during the individual section of the experiment—in other words, they cheated. The experiment also had the advantage of producing guilty as well as innocent subjects.
Russano and her colleagues used the model to test tactics associated with the Reid Technique. In subsequent experiments, she has found that other Reid tactics are extremely effective in producing confessions but not very good at separating true ones from false ones. As Kassin and his colleagues were examining interrogations in the lab, social psychologists were observing them in the field.
In the mid-nineteen-nineties, Richard Leo, a law professor at the University of San Francisco who had undergone Reid training, spent more than nine months sitting in on nearly two hundred interrogations at the Oakland, Hayward, and Vallejo police departments.
He found that most police officers used key elements of the Reid technique, but many skipped the initial interview and went straight to the interrogation. I saw this effect in a video of an interrogation that an Iowa defense attorney sent me. His client, a young man who was eighteen at the time of the interview, had been wrongly accused of molesting a three-year-old girl at the day-care center where he worked. The detective never raised his voice or appeared anything other than sympathetic.
But, in under two hours, he had the young man saying that he had blanked out and fondled the little girl. I guess it must have happened. The district attorney dropped the charges. The Reid interrogation technique is predicated upon an accurate determination, during Behavioral Analysis, of whether the suspect is lying.
Here, too, social scientists find reason for concern. Three decades of research have shown that nonverbal signals, so prized by the Reid trainers, bear no relation to deception. In fact, people have little more than coin-flipping odds of guessing if someone is telling the truth, and numerous surveys have shown that police do no better.
Aldert Vrij, a professor of psychology at the University of Portsmouth, in England, found that law-enforcement experience does not necessarily improve the ability to detect lies. Among police officers, those who said they paid close attention to nonverbal cues did the worst.
What interview and interrogation techniques work best for law enforcement? Image Source: Flickr user Krystian Olszanski. When you have a defensive, hostile, or frightened individual in front of you, it becomes difficult to initiate a dialogue. Most investigators attempt to build rapport at the outset, but once it becomes clear the suspect or witness is not cooperating, the relationship often becomes more adversarial. Present methods of truth verification rely more on technology, physiological and psychological analysis, and best practices in questioning techniques. John E. Reid was instrumental in structuring the questions used in polygraph examinations, which, in the past, was the truth verification system of choice.
How Police Interrogation Works
By: James Orlando, Associate Attorney. This report provides a concise overview of 1 the Reid method of interrogation, 2 critiques of the Reid method, and 3 alternative interrogation techniques. The Reid method is a system of interviewing and interrogation widely used by police departments in the United States. Reid and Associates, Inc. According to the company ' s website, over , law enforcement and security professionals have attended the company ' s interview and interrogation training programs since they were first offered in Some critics contend that the Reid Technique is premised on certain assumptions about human behavior that are not supported by empirical evidence, and that the technique may lead to false confessions.