Why The Reid Technique is Losing Ground to Non-confrontational Police Interview Methods
Law enforcement is moving towards a less confrontational form of police interview. Image source: Flickr user Paul Kehrer.

Law enforcement is moving towards a less confrontational form of police interview. Image source: Flickr user Paul Kehrer.

The dark police interrogation room where secrets are told and lies are uncovered is undergoing a renovation. No longer the stark, intimidating place of the past, it is transforming into an interview room conducive to conversation.

Most people who are questioned by police don’t realize that those chairs, that table, and even the color of the walls weren’t just haphazardly put together. The old school “interrogation” room was purposely created with no creature comforts. Rather, it was a form of psychological priming that was the setting for interrogation methods like the Reid Technique.

Today, law enforcement has realized that treating an interview subject with friendliness, building rapport, and providing a comfortable room yields better results. The interview strategies used in that room are also evolving as organizations learn new strategies for gathering intelligence, eliciting confessions, and validating the truth.

A New Approach to Police Interviews

Most of us are reluctant to give up decades-old processes we have been using our entire careers. Such was the case with the Reid Technique which, since the mid-1970’s, was considered the gold standard of interviewing methods by police agencies across North America. Sure, there were vulnerabilities, but it was standardized and designed for use with the polygraph—which, for many years, was the only truth verification system law enforcement used.

But there are better options today. The Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA®) is a less invasive truth verification system than the polygraph and has done away with all those sensors and tubes which required an individual to sit still for potentially two to four hours. Instead, the CVSA detects signs of stress in the human voice using a microphone clipped to the subject’s clothing. It requires less time for both the Examiner and the subject, who can sit comfortably for approximately half the time it would take to conduct a polygraph examination.

CVSA Examiners are also taught a more effective way of engaging with subjects using a non-confrontational line of questioning called Defense Barrier Removal (DBR®). DBR focuses on creating a bond with the interview subject through gradually building trust in the initial interview and by showing suspects the interviewer is listening. This goal falls in line with the current thinking that building rapport helps a suspect open up and provide more concrete information.

As with the Reid Technique, this process covers everything from the environment to the type of questions asked to the examiner’s demeanor. But CVSA Examiners focus on making subjects comfortable, while the old interview and interrogation techniques were fraught with issues such as false confessions resulting from lengthy interrogations. The form of questioning used in the Reid Technique starts with direct confrontation and a recommendation not to let the suspect talk until they agree to be truthful. That approach doesn’t work well because many suspects will say they are truthful while being deceptive. And attempting to validate statements elicited during this type of interview with a polygraph often leads to false positives and negatives or inconclusive results—all known shortcomings of the polygraph

Adapting to the Modern World

A new approach to police interviews started in England in the early 1990’s and then moved to other countries such as Canada, where the PEACE Model—a less confrontational approach—has replaced the Reid Technique. By this time, law enforcement officers had become aware of the number of false confessions resulting from the Reid Technique. The most famous victim, Juan Rivera, was wrongfully convicted in 1992 after being interviewed and given two polygraphs by investigators using the Reid Technique.

Recently, a major U.S. consulting firm specializing in interrogation and interview training for law enforcement sent out a press release stating they would no longer offer training in the Reid Technique.  The company was licensed by John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. and provided instruction in their methods for thirty-three years. They cited “false confessions tied to misuse of Reid Method” as their reason for the change and are now focusing on non-confrontational methods.

This stunning move highlights the progressive attitude of those in law enforcement and related sectors who understand that the goal isn’t to get a confession at all costs. After all, the information you receive may not be truthful if someone feels coerced or uncomfortable. Successful interviewing is all about the process of creating empathy and building a relationship with the person you are asking to share their secrets.

Crime has evolved and criminals have more tools at their disposal. They share information online and have learned countermeasures to beat the polygraph. They use social engineering or other psychological approaches to convince their victims they are truthful. The problem with the Reid Technique and the polygraph is they are not equipped to handle the changing face of crime. The polygraph is static and can only be used with a live individual sitting in a room with all the necessary equipment. In contrast, the CVSA is portable and can be used remotely.  It can also analyze recorded interviews made over the telephone or by means of the Internet.

The Reid Technique was developed during a time when we were more isolated and the police culture was more hierarchical in relation to the people it served. But the modern world is different, and we have to keep up with criminals by innovating our techniques and tools. Creating a fair process in the police interview room not only helps achieve confessions, but also strengthens the reputation of the organization. After all, the eyes of the world are on police interview rooms as video documentation and shared information holds us all accountable to best practices—harm reduction, better communication, and verifiable information that not only corrals the guilty but clears the innocent.

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