Vol. 77, No. 2Tools of the trade

Conversations over confessions

Investigative interviews focus on information

Cpl. Kevin Jeffery leads an interview scenario while training RCMP officers on the RCMP Phased Interview Model for Suspects at the Pacific Region Training Centre. Credit: Leann Parker, PRTC Learning Technology Unit, RCMP


Walking into an investigative interview with a suspect, it's up to the police officer to set the tone.

There are a vast number of interviewing techniques, with varying combinations of accusatory and non-accusatory components. But for the RCMP, until recently, the national standard leaned towards the accusatory.

The trouble with that, says Sgt. Darren Carr, is it didn't leave interviewers the option to be flexible. Carr, who is with the RCMP's interview team in British Columbia, is also the chair of the working group that has authored the RCMP's new interviewing standard, the RCMP Phased Interview Model for Suspects.

"We just thought that we could do better for our membership in giving them the skills to be successful," says Carr.

"Good blueprint"

What the working group, which consists of subject matter experts within the RCMP, came up with is based on their collective experiences in the field and is tailored to Canadian law.

S/Sgt. Peter Tewfik, former chair of the working group, says the new model allows police officers to go into the interview with a simple goal of gathering information.

The model has six phases: review, preparation and planning; introduction and legal obligations; dialogue; version challenge; accusation and persuasion; and post-interview. Some or all of the phases may be used during the course of an interview.

"There's an emphasis on engaging in dialogue and conversation," says Tewfik. "One of the big criticisms of our former model was that it's guilt presumptive. So we've taken that away, it's about gathering information to advance the investigation, whatever that is."

With a focus on getting to the truth, the model offers members more flexibility to respond to dynamic situations or evolving evidence during an interview.

And getting away from the focus on obtaining a confession ensures police officers keep their minds wide open.

"This is a good blueprint for the next generation of members coming through to do the right thing and to be effective in getting to the truth," says Insp. Scott McLeod, the officer in charge of the Truth Verification Section at RCMP National Headquarters.

Adaptive approach

The model is now being rolled out at the Pacific Region Training Centre (PRTC) in British Columbia.

The PRTC's Sgt. Bruce Pitt-Payne says the training is structured to provide members with ongoing development opportunities and techniques throughout their career rather than one course early in their service.

And with the working group, made up of subject matter experts from across the country, it addresses an issue they'd never been able to resolve before.

"We didn't always have consistency as a national force," says Pitt-Payne. "With the working group, everyone had their say in the development and implementation of this so we can now ensure every province follows the same course training standard."

Pitt-Payne adds not only is the approach adaptable, so is the model. The working group is prepared to make changes to reflect changes that might impact how police gather information.

The PRTC will offer a five-day course on the new technique, in addition to an online component. Pitt-Payne says the members who've already participated have said they now feel less pressure walking into an interview room.

"You're liberating them from the solid structures they felt were imposed before," says Pitt-Payne. "It's going to get more people in the room, they'll practise and they won't have that fear of failure in obtaining a confession."

When it comes to the basic tools of policing, interview techniques are one of the most important — it's something police officers use daily. Carr says giving members the techniques they need to conduct better interviews and gather more information will only help to advance more cases.

"We've got to think much more broadly than just going after a confession," says Carr. "It's about getting evidence and giving the person the opportunity to say what they want to say."

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