This post discusses details about the most useful tool in any skilled private investigator’s arsenal: The art of interview and interrogation. This seems to be a topic of great interest to people, mostly because of the portrayal of interrogation on television, from the multiple incarnations of Law & Order to Jack Bauer threatening to shove a towel down a subject’s throat on 24.
Bauer, in no small way, has contributed a negative connotation with the term interrogation over the years. In fact, this is so prevalent, that I think most of the general public falsely assume that interrogation simply is the set of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques (that include the practice of waterboarding, torture, and the use of mind-altering drugs).
It isn’t. But due to this connotation, I should define what interrogation means in the private investigative world:
An interrogation is simply an interview, with the goal of getting more information, evidence, confessions – anything that helps identify the truth behind the situation at hand.
There’s no need for towels, Mr. Bauer. You’d be surprised at the information you can get if you simply ask in the right way.
While interrogation and interview is taught in many different branches of law enforcement, it takes talent, dedication, and experience to become skilled at it. I should know. During my tenure as a supervisory Federal agent, I taught interrogation classes at the Departments of Justice and Treasury, in over 60 foreign countries, and at many law enforcement academies throughout the Unites States.
I’ve been a private investigator for the last 33 years. You can imagine that one of the very first things that I look at when hiring a new investigator at Martin Investigative Services is the candidate’s interview and interrogation skills and experience. I’m a rough critic. But I’m eclectic, because when we are called into a large corporation where there is a multimillion dollar theft situation going on, I want to make sure the guy beside me knows what I am thinking even before I ask a question to anyone.
The general rule goes something like this:
Can I be fooled? Yes.
Can my partner be fooled? Yes.
Can we both be fooled on the same day, at the same interview? No.
To that end, I have the luxury to know and work with other former agents of the FBI, DEA, IRS and Secret Service who have taught interview and interrogation at the Federal academies. These are the best of the best. When they retire or leave to enter the private sector, the door to their employment with my agency is wide-open.
I talk a little about my approach in this video, right around the :17 second mark:
Interrogation skills do come into play every time we investigate employee theft, fraud, and other types of internal matters facing corporate America. Many times, when we talk to the CEO’s of these companies, they want us to put an undercover employee in place at the company. That’s one way of doing it, but it is not an effective use of the client’s money (or our talent). With an undercover employee in place, the chances of hitting a home-run for the client can be quite limited: it can take many weeks, cost thousands of dollars, and not uncover a single person stealing time, money or product.
Interrogations are cheaper, more effective, and faster. In fact, sometimes we can resolve these cases in just a few hours.
Interrogation rarely involves raised voices, let alone yelling. It doesn’t often even take place in a closed room. When we work with attorneys, sometimes the people we interview have information that they don’t want to share. It takes many, many years to learn, but sometimes the best approach is very low-key: to gather information in regular, friendly conversation. It’s simple, but you still have to know what strategic questions to ask, how to ask them, and when. This is an art and it takes a minimum of ten years experience and hundreds of interviews at the Federal level to develop.
Surveillance is half of the private investigation business. This involves getting photo/video evidence of people in the act. Interrogation is the other half, which involves discovering the facts surrounding a situation – and in cases of wrongdoing, getting confessions. These confessions then result in us taking a declaration under the penalty of perjury and the laws of the State we are conducting the investigation. It is critical to lock-in the subject’s misdeeds in a court-ready document that will stand the test of time and a judge or juror.
These declarations can be used if the client wants to prosecute the subject. Many times we take the declarations to the law enforcement community and request that criminal charges be brought. This sends a very strong message to other current employees: Theft will not be tolerated, and those stealing will be prosecuted.
I hope I’ve cleared things up a bit about interrogation. When used properly, it can result in life-changing events. If you have questions, or a situation we can help you with, please feel free to call.