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April 21, 2014

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Interrogation 101

A detective is teaching others the art of the squeal

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scottog / Flickr

We’ll get the truth outta you somehow, ya see?

Detective Robert Griffin taped a map of Henderson to the wall. Then he picked 30 points on that map, and stuck pins in each point. Then he stuck a mug shot — the same mug shot, the same guy, 30 times — next to each point. Then he stood back and admired his work: An instant map of the man's burglary career.

Detective Griffin brought the man into the interview room.

"Oh, hell no," Griffin remembers him saying, taking in the wall. "Helllllll no. I didn't do that one. I didn't do that one. I did this one, and this one, and this one. But not the rest of them. Those aren't me." The man confessed to three burglaries — two more than Griffin really knew about.

Last week, an audience of UNLV students laughed when Griffin told them this story, and others like it. They were Forensic Accounting students, getting tips from the Henderson detective on interviews and interrogation. Learning, among other things, about using lies to extract the truth.

"Innocent people will explode," Griffin said, when the justice system fails them. Guilty people, on the other hand, act like boxers: They dodge and they strike. When the police squeeze, he said, guilty people hustle. When the police succeed, guilty people "crumble."

"Watch out for reinforcers," Griffin told the students. Those are people who say things like, "I swear," "with God as my witness," "you have to believe me."

"Watch out for escape routes," he said — vague answers that give too much wiggle room. Watch out for people who object, he said, rather than deny.

And always ask open-ended questions. Not, "do you know her?" but "how long have you known her?" Questions that have an assumption built in, questions that can't be answered with a yes or a no.

"They'll answer before their minds allow them to formulate a lie," Griffin said.

The students smiled, took notes.

A good interview with a bad guy eventually turns into an interrogation. When it's time to elicit a confession, it's time to introduce the "theme" — the criminal's reason for breaking the law, the narrative that allows them to explain the crime.

"You cannot expect a person to confess without giving them an opportunity to couple their admissions with an excuse," Griffin said.

Forensic accountants deal with embezzlers. There are plenty of themes Griffin suggests in these circumstances: You're underpaid, your boss is so rich, you're so overworked.

Minimizing the moral seriousness of the crime makes it easier for people to confess. "And there is no situation," Griffin says, "that can't be minimized."

When they accept the theme, you can tell: They nod, they appear defeated, they slump. Sometimes what a person doesn't say says everything.

And when you're done, Griffin told the students, leave these interview techniques at work. Don't bring them home to your wives, your husbands, your families.

"Sometimes," he said, "it's better not to know the truth."

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