Breaking down barriers in the police interview room starts with connecting with the suspect.

Breaking down barriers in the police interview room starts with connecting with the suspect. Image source: Flickr user Jasleen Kaur.

His arms are folded over his chest; his legs are crossed. You, on the other hand, are sitting back, hands interlaced at the back of your head, legs in that position some women call “manspreading.” The suspect is being defensive, and you are showing you are in control. But are you? You can’t break down their walls with a show of power, and the suspect already knows he is under the spotlight. Instead, if you approach the suspect with openness and friendliness, you will come out of the interview with more information than when you went in.

Police officers who are trained in using the  Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA®) use an interview technique called the Defense Barrier Removal,® which is designed to reduce stress and make suspects feel comfortable with the process of the interview and truth verification examination. DBR is a methodology that focuses on building rapport by creating a non-threatening environment and focusing on gradually gathering information—a highly effective method of getting a suspect to tell the truth.

Creating a Bond Between Unlikely Participants

Glynn County (Brunswick, Georgia) Police Detective Jay Wiggins found himself face-to-face with a suspect who had been brought in after a domestic call where shots were fired. The man was found grieving for his wife, who appeared to have shot herself in the head. Even so, Wiggins conducted a CVSA examination on the husband at the request of investigating detectives.

Wiggins, as a CVSA Examiner understood the principles of DBR and the value of putting his suspect at ease. For example, while the CVSA Examiner is dressed professionally, he would not be in uniform or display his gun, handcuffs, or other intimidating police equipment that may distress individuals. Even the decision about what to wear is important, as psychologists who study color and its effect on emotions point out that colors such as medium to dark shades of blue or gray are more likely to instill trust in a person. The actual interview focuses on non-accusatory questions leading up to the truth verification examination. 

Wiggin’s suspect failed the CVSA examination and asked to retake it—and then failed again. Although Wiggins trusted his own interview skills and the technology, he still needed a confession. The man was sticking to his story, which, if true, meant he should have been with family being consoled over the death of his depressed wife. No one wants to see someone suffer needlessly, so it was imperative that Wiggins clear this up quickly.

Using DBR to Resolve a Case

The Reid Technique, a style of interviewing that was formulated to work with the polygraph, is the most popular interviewing approach, even for officers who aren’t conducting polygraph examinations. However, this more adversarial approach is not an effective method of getting a person to open up and has led to false confessions because of its lengthy, stressful interrogations. The CVSA Examination, in contrast, is quicker and less invasive, using only a microphone to capture the human voice.

When someone is approached in an aggressive manner, that is when their walls go up. Suspects may try to manipulate the situation with mimicry of your body language or verbal communication style. They may laugh out of nervousness or as a tool to manipulate you, but inside, they’re just afraid they are going to be convicted.

Making an individual feel comfortable is the best route to obtaining truthful information. Working towards that goal includes everything from providing a comfortable setting for the interview to managing how that person perceives your body language. According to the principles of DBR, Wiggins would have opened the conversation in a casual tone, perhaps talking about the weather or sports. He would move into the interview phase in a friendly manner, indicating that perhaps this had all been a mistake or an accident. All the while, Wiggins would be analyzing the behavior of the suspect. Guilty individuals show more inconsistencies in their statements and more interruptions in their speech patterns, while innocent suspects are more confident in their answers.

After Wiggins showed the suspect the CVSA charts, the man finally confessed to shooting his wife. Although only a short period of time had passed, Wiggins had managed to build a connection and get his suspect to open up. Wiggins convinced him that making a confession was in his best interest when he had already lied not just once, but many times—to the other police and on two CVSA exams.

The suspect felt comfortable enough to confess, despite knowing he was probably going away for a long time. He’s not about to send Wiggins a “thank you” card, but the family of the dead woman is grateful that justice was observed. This kind of resolution is the ultimate goal of the police interview. Taking the DBR route to the truth is not only more expedient, but it allows the investigator to leave the interview room knowing they got information not with coercion but through analytical, strategic thinking.

Please reach out to us at NITV Federal Services to learn more about our CVSA systems and training programs.