Police Investigation Tactics

The following “tactics” are commonly used by law enforcement to build a case against a suspected sex offender.

Pre Text Phone Calls

The “pretext” phone call is a tool that can be used in a wide variety of criminal investigations. It is commonly used in the investigation of so called drug-facilitated rapes.

In this context, a pretext phone call is simply a tape-recorded telephone call between the victim and the suspect. The call is usually initiated by the victim, under the supervision of a law enforcement officer, preferably the lead investigator or case agent. The suspect is unaware that the call is being recorded. This technique may be referred to by different terms, including “confrontational calls,” “pretense calls,” “taping,” and “consensual taping.” The purpose of a pretext phone call is to elicit incriminating statements from the suspect.

A suspect will frequently talk to the sexual assault victim about the incident if he believes the victim is alone and no one else is listening. The tape recording resulting from an effective pretext call gives the investigator leverage during the subsequent interview of the suspect because the investigator can confront the suspect with the recorded statements the suspect made during the call.

Statements obtained as the result of a pretext call are powerful evidence in court and are sometimes key evidence linking the suspect to the crime. Be aware of their use…

The Use Of Polygraphs

A polygraph is an instrument that records certain physiological changes in a person undergoing questioning in an effort to obtain truth or deception. A polygraph simultaneously records a minimum of respiratory activity, galvanic skin resistance/conductivity and cardiovascular activity.

In 1961 Davis presented three hypotheses to explain the effectiveness of the polygraph technique. One of these concepts related to fear of consequences. When a subject recognises that he or she faces negative consequences for their actions i.e. imprisonment, financial loss or embarrassment if a deception is discovered, he or she becomes fearful of that outcome. This emotional reaction activates the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and such changes are monitored and subsequently recorded

Law enforcement agencies using the polygraph do so predicated on the basis that it is an important investigative aid. The police will tell you that the polygraph will be used to exonerate you and to verify the statements of victims, establish the credibility of witnesses and to evaluate other circumstantial evidence.

The truth is the polygraph is used as a ruse to get a suspect to make incriminating statements – even innocent statements can be “filtered” to fit a “theory” an investigator may have. As an ex DA – it was routine for our office to “offer” a polygraph but then refuse to immunize the suspect from use of the statements made in the “pre-polygraph” and “post-polygraph” interviews…hoping the suspect would somehow “slip” and produce a statement that could be used at trial.

Polygraphs are NOT admissible at trial. Be aware of this tactic.

The Use of Misdirection and other Interrogation Techniques by the Investigating Officer

In criminal investigations, once a detective has suspects in mind, the next step is to produce evidence that will stand up in a court of law. The best way is to obtain a confession from the suspect; usually, this is done by developing rapport and at times by seeking information in exchange for potential perks available through the Attorney’s Office, such as entering for a lesser sentence in exchange for usable information.

Detectives will lie, mislead and psychologically pressure a suspect into an admission or confession as long as they do this within procedural boundaries and without the threat of violence or promises outside their control.

With a few exceptions, the police are allowed to lie to a suspect to get him to confess. The belief is that an innocent person would never confess to a crime she didn’t commit, even if she were confronted with false physical evidence of her involvement. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, but it’s a big part of the reason why the police are allowed to employ deceptive tactics in interrogation.

The psychological manipulation begins before the interrogator even opens his mouth. The physical layout of an interrogation room is designed to maximize a suspect’s discomfort and sense of powerlessness from the moment he steps inside. The classic interrogation manual “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” recommends a small, soundproof room with only three chairs (two for detectives, one for the suspect) and a desk, with nothing on the walls. This creates a sense of exposure, unfamiliarity and isolation, heightening the suspect’s “get me out of here” sensation throughout the interrogation.

The manual also suggests that the suspect should be seated in an uncomfortable chair, out of reach of any controls like light switches or thermostats, furthering his discomfort and setting up a feeling of dependence. A one-way mirror is an ideal addition to the room, because it increases the suspect’s anxiety and allows other detectives to watch the process and help the interrogator figure out which techniques are working and which aren’t.

Before the nine steps of the Reid interrogation begin, there’s an initial interview to determine guilt or innocence. During this time, the interrogator attempts to develop a rapport with the suspect, using casual conversation to create a non-threatening atmosphere. People tend to like and trust people who are like them, so the detective may claim to share some of the suspect’s interests or beliefs. If the suspect starts talking to the interrogator about harmless things, it becomes harder to stop talking (or start lying) later when the discussion turns to the crime.

During this initial conversation, the detective observes the suspect’s reactions — both verbal and non-verbal — to establish a baseline reaction before the real stress begins. The detective will use this baseline later as a comparison point.

One method of creating a baseline involves asking questions that cause the suspect to access different parts of his brain. The detective asks non-threatening questions that require memory (simple recall) and questions that require thinking (creativity). When the suspect is remembering something, his eyes will often move to the right. This is just an outward manifestation of his brain activating the memory center. When he’s thinking about something, his eyes might move upward or to the left, reflecting activation of the cognitive center. The detective makes a mental note of the suspect’s eye activity.

Bad Move

In the United States, as many as 80 percent of suspects waive their rights to silence and counsel, allowing police to conduct a full-scale interrogation.

The next step is to turn the questioning to the task at hand. The detective will ask basic questions about the crime and compare the suspect’s reactions to the baseline to determine if the suspect is being truthful or deceptive. If the interrogator asks the suspect where he was the night of the crime and he answers truthfully, he’ll be remembering, so his eyes may move to the right; if he’s making up an alibi, he’s thinking, so his eyes might move to the left. If the interrogator determines that the suspect’s reactions indicate deception, and all other evidence points to guilt, the interrogation of a guilty suspect begins.

The Reid technique is the basis of the widely used “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” manual we already mentioned. It lays out nine steps or issues guiding interrogation. Many of these steps overlap, and there is no such thing as a “typical” interrogation; but the Reid technique provides a blueprint of how a successful interrogation might unfold.

1. Confrontation

The detective presents the facts of the case and informs the suspect of the evidence against him. This evidence might be real, or it might be made up. The detective typically states in a confident manner that the suspect is involved in the crime. The suspect’s stress level starts increasing, and the interrogator may move around the room and invade the suspect’s personal space to increase the discomfort.

If the suspect starts fidgeting, licking his lips and or grooming himself (running his hand through his hair, for instance), the detective takes these as indicators of deception and knows he’s on the right track.

2. Theme development

The interrogator creates a story about why the suspect committed the crime. Theme development is about looking through the eyes of the suspect to figure out why he did it, why he’d like to think he did it and what type of excuse might make him admit he did it. Does the suspect use any particular mode of reasoning more often than others? For example, does he seem willing to blame the victim? The detective lays out a theme, a story, that the suspect can latch on to in order to either excuse or justify his part in the crime, and the detective then observes the suspect to see if he likes the theme. Is he paying closer attention than before? Nodding his head? If so, the detective will continue to develop that theme; if not, he’ll pick a new theme and start over. Theme development is in the background throughout the interrogation. When developing themes, the interrogator speaks in a soft, soothing voice to appear non-threatening and to lull the suspect into a false sense of security.

3. Stopping denials

Letting the suspect deny his guilt will increase his confidence, so the detective tries to interrupt all denials, sometimes telling the suspect it’ll be his turn to talk in a moment, but right now, he needs to listen. From the start of the interrogation, the detective watches for denials and stops the suspect before he can voice them. In addition to keeping the suspect’s confidence low, stopping denials also helps quiet the suspect so he doesn’t have a chance to ask for a lawyer. If there are no denials during theme development, the detective takes this as a positive indicator of guilt. If initial attempts at denial slow down or stop during theme development, the interrogator knows he has found a good theme and that the suspect is getting closer to confessing.

4. Overcoming objections

Once the interrogator has fully developed a theme that the suspect can relate to, the suspect may offer logic-based objections as opposed to simple denials, like “I could never rape somebody — my sister was raped and I saw how much pain it caused. I would never do that to someone.” The detective handles these differently than he does denials, because these objections can give him information to turn around and use against the suspect. The interrogator might say something like, “See, that’s good, you’re telling me you would never plan this, that it was out of your control. You care about women like your sister — it was just a one-time mistake, not a recurring thing.” If the detective does his job right, an objection ends up looking more like an admission of guilt.

5. Getting the suspect’s attention

At this point, the suspect should be frustrated and unsure of himself. He may be looking for someone to help him escape the situation. The interrogator tries to capitalize on that insecurity by pretending to be the suspect’s ally. He’ll try to appear even more sincere in his continued theme development, and he may get physically closer to the suspect to make it harder for the suspect to detach from the situation. The interrogator may offer physical gestures of camaraderie and concern, such as touching the suspect’s shoulder or patting his back.

6. The suspect loses resolve

If the suspect’s body language indicates surrender — his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees, his shoulders hunched — the interrogator seizes the opportunity to start leading the suspect into confession. He’ll start transitioning from theme development to motive alternatives (see the next step) that force the suspect to choose a reason why he committed the crime. At this stage, the interrogator makes every effort to establish eye contact with the suspect to increase the suspect’s stress level and desire to escape. If, at this point, the suspect cries, the detective takes this as a positive indicator of guilt.

7. Alternatives

The interrogator offers two contrasting motives for some aspect of the crime, sometimes beginning with a minor aspect so it’s less threatening to the suspect. One alternative is socially acceptable (“It was a crime of passion”), and the other is morally repugnant (“You killed her for the money”). The detective builds up the contrast between the two alternatives until the suspect gives an indicator of choosing one, like a nod of the head or increased signs of surrender. Then, the detective speeds things up.

8. Bringing the suspect into the conversation

Once the suspect chooses an alternative, the confession has begun. The interrogator encourages the suspect to talk about the crime and arranges for at least two people to witness the confession. One may be the second detective in room, and another may be brought in for the purpose of forcing the suspect to confess to a new detective — having to confess to a new person increases the suspect’s stress level and his desire to just sign a statement and get out of there. Bringing a new person into the room also forces the suspect to reassert his socially acceptable reason for the crime, reinforcing the idea that the confession is a done deal.

9. The confession

The final stage of an interrogation is all about getting the confession admitted at trial. The interrogator will have the suspect write out his confession or state it on videotape. The suspect is usually willing to do anything at this point to escape the interrogation. The suspect confirms that his confession is voluntary, not coerced, and signs the statement in front of witnesses.

When You’ve Got Company

The Just Cause Law Collective warns that if you’re arrested with friends, you’ve got to keep a cool head. Decide beforehand that no one’s going to say a word until everyone has a lawyer, and remind yourself that police will try to play on the natural paranoia that arises when people are separated. The Collective offers a further warning regarding a group arrest: When you have your strategy discussion, don’t do it in the back seat of a police car. If the officers stuffed you all into one car and walked away, they’re recording you.

It should be noted here that in the United States, if at any point during the interrogation the suspect does somehow manage to ask for a lawyer or invoke his right to silence, the interrogation has to stop immediately. That’s why it’s so important to interrupt the suspect’s attempts to speak in the initial stages — if he invokes his rights, the interrogation is over.

The steps we’ve laid out here represent some of the psychological techniques that detectives use to get confessions from suspects. But a real interrogation doesn’t always follow the textbook.

Five Techniques of Surviving a Police Interrogation (Without Confessing)

Taken from free BEAGLES’ recommendations for animal rights’ activists (and others) on how to make it through a police interrogation without incriminating themselves or their peers:

  1. Remain silent.
  2. Remain silent.
  3. Imagine the words “I invoke my right to remain silent” painted on the wall, and stare at them throughout the interrogation.
  4. Momentarily break your silence to ask for counsel.
  5. Cultivate hatred for your interrogator so you don’t fall into his traps and start talking.
Confessions and the Constitution

The primary Constitutional Amendments referred to in Supreme Court decisions regarding the admissibility of confessions are the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees a person’s right to not incriminate himself, the Sixth Amendement, which guarantees the right to a speedy trial, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to due process. When the police hold and interrogate a suspect for three days without charging him with a crime, they’ve violated that suspect’s right to due process. When the police string someone up in a tree and whip him until he confesses, they’ve violated that person’s right not to incriminate himself.

* Credit is given to the excellent web site: How Stuff Works.

Client Reviews
"Mr. Steinberg provided my family with expert handling of my son's case. He took extra time understand the case, to consult with us during the pretrial proceedings, and to support him for a plea agreement. Mr. Steinberg is very knowledge about the law and very professional. He guided us in achieving the best possible outcome for my son. If I am ever in need of law services again, I will certainly have Mr. Steinberg handle my case. l also highly recommend his services to anyone that might be in need of an excellent defense attorney!" Tanya Witt
"I found myself in criminal trouble, that I wasn't guilty of and thanks to Mr. Steinberg's dedication and hard work, right before we we're looking at having to continue on to trial level Mr. Steinberg was able to use his vast knowledge of the law and his many respected years in the system to find a way to show my innocence. After a very unsure and somewhat difficult time for me, this very skilled and knowledgeable attorney was able to find the right path to take to reach a dismissal in my case. For that I can't tell you how much I appreciate his representation and his excellent understanding and helpful personality. He's a great man and an even better attorney but don't misunderstand him, he is an attorney not a therapist. Thanks H." Josh
"Working with Michael Steinberg was a wonderful experience. Truly people need to know that he is a expert in what he does. His personality is compassionate, intellectual, and down to earth. I glean that Michael is fun to be around. In the time I worked with him, it was a pleasure to be around him. As for my case, the outcome was amazing and couldn’t be better. He has made my life more manageable because of the outcome of my case. I’ve worked with other lawyers in the Denver area. He is superior to them all. If you’re in need of a lawyer and you come across Mr. Steinberg look no further he’s going to be the one you need. Thank you again Michael." Renee Taylor
Mr. Steinberg, It has been an honor working with you. I very much appreciated your style, demeanor, patience, and determination. I was well instructed in every step of the court process, and I felt that I received excellent guidance and timely information regarding my case. You have been extremely thoughtful with your time, and I was very impressed with your sensitivity in responding to my requests. Thank you. Anonymous