11 April 2013

5 Psychological Tricks Interrogators Use On Criminals

Me grilling Dan McD in Law & Order SVU's interrogation room (my buddy MikeC works on the show and let us look around the set!)

We've all watched the imaginary suspects on televisions hows get grilled. Usually there's a large, muscular cop with a bad temper yelling at the suspect, maybe breaking some furniture, maybe breaking the suspect himself. On the other side of the room is the more mild-mannered, polite officer who promptly removes their overly-enthusiastic partner as soon as the first chair (or nose) breaks. The good cop/bad cop routine, although a bit over played in TV police dramas, is a classic interrogation technique. However it is not the only, or even most commonly used, method.

Once you've been accused of a crime and arrested, the interrogation begins. One trick that police like to use is to provide misinformation. The interrogating officer will start off small, letting you know that he has some information that connects you to the crime, and for the first item or two presented, the officer probably has actual evidence to prove it. Then the detective may go a little rogue. They may tell you that they can prove something vital and in actuality have no proof at all.

What the interrogator is doing here is establishing credibility by demonstrating that he knows things about you. Those first two items they might list off, the ones that the police likely have evidence of, are the credibility builders. You now know that they know.

The third item is a theory built from evidence that is presented to the suspect as fact. Once this is presented to the suspect, based off of their reaction to the previous two items, the interrogator can tell if they're on the right track at this point.

Room Design
Not all interrogation techniques are verbal. Interrogation rooms are designed to make you want to get out as soon as possible. Many manuals suggest as austere a room as possible, no more than three chairs and a desk with nothing on the walls. It should also be noted that many interrogation rooms have no controls for temperature or lighting.

This combination of factors creates a sterile, uncomfortable environment. They are designed to make the suspect feel exposed, vulnerable, and isolated.

Building A Rapport
The interrogator can take advantage of the vulnerable and isolated feeling created in the suspect by their environment by starting to build a rapport with them. A detective may begin the initial stage of the interview with casual, non-threatening conversation. They may even claim to have some of the same interests or beliefs as the suspect. The goal here is to lull the suspect into a sense of security. People are more likely to be forthcoming and straightforward with people who are like them.

Establish A Reference Point
While building a rapport with the suspect, an interrogator can kill two birds with one stone. By observing the suspect's reactions to casual conversation, the interrogator can see how the suspect reacts under minimal stress. By taking note of verbal cues and body language, the detective can indicate later on whether the suspect is lying to them.

Give An Excuse
The interrogating detective might even give a suspect an excuse for the crime. Based on what they know about a suspect, an interrogator can lay out all of the evidence against a suspect, build up a story of what happened, and then sympathize with a suspect to come up with an excuse. For example, a detective might tell a suspect, "You did this, this and this, and then you shot her. She was in the way of your goals, so you shot her."

Having a ready made excuse will make it easier for the suspect to accept the evidence and admit guilt based, not on the evidence, but on the excuse.

Featured image:
License: Creative Commons image source 

About Today's Guest Writer:

Joseph Banks works as a criminal profiler and enjoys sharing the many aspects of psychology, including how it can be used in fields such as criminal justice, with his readers. Joseph has also contributed to finding the best psychology masters online for people who want to take advantage of the convenience of online programs and still get the best education available.

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