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TRUTH FOCUSED INTERVIEWING


November 28, 2012
By Kevin Byrnes

852 words – MR EXPO SPEAKER – Truth-focused Interviewing

Truth-focused interviewing

Interviewing and risk management

Kevin Byrnes

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The writers and producers of shows such as the Crime Scene Investigation franchise would have you believe that almost all crime is solved by way of collecting and analyzing physical evidence. A dust sized particle leads the intrepid investigators inexorably to the accused, who is quickly arrested and instantly confesses.

While I would never belittle the important role played by my brothers and sisters in forensic identification the majority of crime is, in fact, solved through interviews. Toward this end it is essential to get a full, truthful and uncontaminated account from all persons who have knowledge of a crime.

This is where comes into the picture.

It is only when all the players are interviewed in a non-judgemental atmosphere where it is clear that the interviewer is focused on getting to the truth that the full story will come out. In my mind, one of the key roles of interviewing all involved, including victims, witnesses and suspects, is not only to ensure the guilty are charged but to prevent innocent people from being unnecessarily put before the courts.

As a domestic violence investigator this is a very useful skill as many domestics are reported by third parties who have witnessed an incident which, from their perspective, appears to have been an offence. When police intervene the participants are often unwilling to share their story due to a number of factors. Victims do not want to speak with police because it’s felt they will only hurt their spouse (the probable bread winner), who they do not want to be charged.

The suspect or accused will not generally speak because their counsel’s advice is invariably to exercise their right to remain silent. In most cases this will lead police to proceed with the limited information they have and charge the accused. They will eventually be released on conditions restricting their behaviour, splitting up their family, leaving them needing a place to live and causing them endless shame with family and friends. These conditions will likely remain in effect until the matter is dealt with in court, which could take a year or more.

From an organizational risk management point of view, there could be liability issues if no attempts are made to obtain the required information. If, however, efforts are made to obtain statements from all persons involved using the methods outlined in a truth-focused interviewing technique, it is much more likely the full story will come out. Innocent people will not be put before the courts and placed on court imposed restrictions to their freedom.

It is my practice to interview everyone, regardless of their initial reluctance. It has been my experience that once you establish rapport and trust with someone and create an atmosphere where only the truth is important, they will speak with you.

In late November 2010, uniform officers on a domestic violence call found a broken kitchen chair and were told the wife threw it and a piece broke off and hit her husband. This information came from a friend who was in the next room when the events unfolded. They arrested the wife for mischief and assault with a weapon. This was the correct action to take given the information they had at the scene.

I convinced the husband to provide a sworn video statement during which he told me the chair was already broken so we could not charge his wife with mischief. The husband said he was entering the room without her knowledge when the chair part hit him so there was no intent to commit an assault.

I advised him that if his wife told the same story, she would be released without charge. The wife started off by saying that the lawyer told her not to talk to police. My partner took the time to take a cautioned statement and the wife independently gave an account very similar to what her husband had said. After being told she would be released unconditionally, she broke down in tears and told the officer about the years of physical and sexual abuse she had suffered. The husband was arrested, charged and eventually plead guilty.

In this particular case, not only did we keep from sending an innocent person into the court system as an accused but we also allowed her to open up about the abuse she had suffered.

Although this is an extreme example, it is not one of a kind. There have been a number of cases where officers acted properly given the information they had and implemented the mandatory charge policy in domestic violence situations. Once the cases came to the attention of our office, the victim, accused and any other witnesses were interviewed, resulting in no charges being laid. In other cases we were able to decide on the most appropriate charges and whether it was appropriate to release the accused after their interview.

These situations are good examples as to why continually improving one’s interviewing skills is so important in today’s policing environment.


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