Training Influences Technique When it Comes to Police Interrogation

Training Influences Technique When it Comes to Police Interrogation

Forensic Training AcademyNot only is police interrogation technique related to the type of training received, but officers appear to use the same techniques for both juveniles and adults during interrogations. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

When Assessing Sexual Violence, Guided Clinical Decision Making Can Outperform Algorithms

Police Training in Interviewing and Interrogation Methods: A Comparison of Techniques Used with Adult and Juvenile Suspects | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 3, 270-284

Police Training in Interviewing and Interrogation Methods: A Comparison of Techniques Used with Adult and Juvenile Suspects


Hayley M. D. Cleary, Virginia Commonwealth University
Todd C. Warner, John Jay College of Criminal Justice


Despite empirical progress in documenting and classifying various interrogation techniques, very little is known about how police are trained in interrogation methods, how frequently they use various techniques, and whether they employ techniques differentially with adult versus juvenile suspects. This study reports the nature and extent of formal (e.g., Reid Technique, PEACE, HUMINT) and informal interrogation training as well as self-reported technique usage in a diverse national sample (N = 340) of experienced American police officers. Officers were trained in a variety of different techniques ranging from comparatively benign pre-interrogation strategies (e.g., building rapport, observing body language or speech patterns) to more psychologically coercive techniques (e.g., blaming the victim, discouraging denials). Over half the sample reported being trained to use psychologically coercive techniques with both adults and juveniles. The majority (91%) receive informal, “on the job” interrogation training. Technique usage patterns indicate a spectrum of psychological intensity where information-gathering approaches were used most frequently and high-pressure tactics less frequently. Reid-trained officers (56%) were significantly more likely than officers without Reid training to use pre-interrogation and manipulation techniques. Across all analyses and techniques, usage patterns were identical for adult and juvenile suspects, suggesting that police interrogate youth in the same manner as adults. Overall, results suggest that training in specific interrogation methods is strongly associated with usage. Findings underscore the need for more law enforcement interrogation training in general, especially with juvenile suspects, and highlight the value of training as an avenue for reducing interrogation-induced miscarriages of justice.


interrogation, training, techniques, juveniles, police

Summary of the Research

“A notable “training gap” exists in the literature such that social science understands very little about how the law enforcement community prepares investigators—legally and tactically—to elicit information from criminal suspects” (p. 271). “How police are trained to interrogate suspects raises the question of how police actually interrogate suspects in practice. Although very little research has examined police interrogation training, more scholarship has explored the techniques police use during interviewing and interrogation… Researchers have expanded the study of interrogation techniques by identifying dozens of individual interrogation strategies in numerous different contexts” (p. 271).
“The present study addresses significant gaps in the literature pertaining to police officers’ interrogation training as well as their self-reported use of interrogation techniques. To our knowledge, it is the first to report extensively on the training police receive, both formal and informal, in suspect interviewing and interrogation methods. Additionally, it adds to the extremely scant literature directly comparing police usage of techniques with adult versus juvenile suspects. The study aims are threefold: (a) to describe law enforcement officers’ interrogation training experiences using a diverse national sample of experienced interrogators; (b) to examine police use of interrogation techniques commonly discussed in the literature, including a comparison of techniques used with adult versus juvenile suspects; and (c) to examine the relationship between interrogation training and actual interrogation practices. The study addresses these three aims using a targeted sample of highly experienced police investigators” (p. 272).
“Participants were students of the FBI National Academy (NA) in Quantico, Virginia, an intensive federally sponsored training program that serves primarily American state and local law enforcement officers but also international police professionals. The National Academy is a 10-week leadership program that trains four cohorts per year, each including approximately 220 officers from all 50 states and many other nations, and typically including only one officer from any given department” (p.273).
“To summarize, [Principal Component Analysis] models indicated four distinct components of interrogation techniques, conceptualized here as pre-interrogation, manipulation, confrontation, and presentation of evidence. Officers report using all of these techniques—even the types of techniques considered to be more aggressive or manipulative, though those appear less frequently. Additionally, although all technique components were used more frequently with adults than with juveniles, the overall pattern of component loadings was similar across the two models, suggesting that officers use this array of techniques similarly when questioning adults versus juvenile suspects” (p. 276). “With regard to training in specific interrogation techniques, officers were more likely to have received formal training on specific techniques for use with adult suspects rather than juveniles and that similar training patterns emerged across the sample for the questioning of juveniles and adults, suggesting that most trainings are probably geared toward adult interrogations” (p. 280). “With regard to the specific techniques police employ during criminal interrogations, overall police used less coercive tactics more frequently than the tactics generally considered more aggressive or coercive. When examining the individual techniques in order of frequency, the results form something of a gradient where the relatively benign, information-gathering types of strategies are used most frequently, and frequency of use declines as the techniques become more psychologically coercive. Indeed, the four items comprising the pre-interrogation component (building rapport, observing body language, offering things for comfort, and observing speech patterns) were the four techniques officers report using the most often with both adult and juvenile suspects… However, our study is consistent with previous research suggesting that even the more aggressive techniques are still sometimes used; for example, the means for presenting false evidence, using deceit, and moving physically closer to the suspect ranged from 2.42–3.00 (where 3 = sometimes). Moreover, these aggressive techniques are used with similar frequency with juvenile suspects as with adults.” (p. 280).
“One primary research question in the present study was the relationship between interrogation training and practice. Reid training emerged as a significant predictor of the pre-interrogation component and the manipulation component. Regarding the former, it appears that Reid-trained officers are indeed practicing the Behavior Analysis Interview and other preparatory interview strategies that the training teaches… Regarding the manipulation component, Reid-trained officers in our sample more frequently use manipulation tactics (e.g., discouraging denials, suggesting what might have happened, minimizing offense seriousness) than non-Reid trained officers” (p. 281).

Translating Research into Practice

“Our data indicate that police officers in the present sample interrogate juvenile suspects essentially the same way they interrogate adult suspects. They use the same patterns of manipulative, confrontational, or psychologically coercive techniques with comparatively the same frequencies. Scholars have long known that adolescence is a risk factor for false confessions, but whether police employ the same psychologically coercive strategies known to induce false confessions with juvenile suspects remains unclear. Our findings indicate that police utilize them no more or less frequently with juveniles than with adults in comparison to less coercive strategies” (p. 281).
“The overall similarity between police training in individual interrogation techniques and utilization of those techniques indicates that training is strongly associated with practice. On the one hand, this finding is discouraging for scholars and advocates who worry that Reid or Reid-like techniques are being taught to American law enforcement officers with increasing regularity—that the model of psychologically coercive interrogation is perpetuating. On a more positive note, this holds tremendous promise for the continual improvement of American police interviewing and interrogation, particularly with respect to juveniles. It suggests, at least preliminarily, that police officers’ apparent unwillingness to account for youthful status in the interrogation room may be a function of inadequate training. We concur with the recommendation in Kassin et al.’s (2010) White Paper that law enforcement officers receive specialized training in interrogation of youthful and other vulnerable suspects given that the present study suggests that such training has the potential to influence police practices in everyday interrogations” (p. 282).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“This study found that police receive informal training at very high rates; almost 91% of officers reported receiving “on-the-job” training in criminal interrogation from other officers. Although not terribly surprising given the considerable monetary and personnel costs of formal interrogation workshops, this does highlight that informal training may be the predominant mechanism through which officers’ information and experience in conducting interrogations is transmitted. Such a mechanism represents both a challenge and opportunity for improving police training. On the one hand, it suggests that formal training in potentially problematic interrogation techniques (Reid or otherwise) may spread virally through agencies; indeed, officers in our study as well as previous studies have indicated using tactics similar to those found in the Reid manual without having expressly received the official Reid training. On the other hand, it suggests that formal training in more humane and/or developmentally appropriate techniques has the potential to reach a wide audience and have a marked impact on everyday interrogations in the United States” (p. 280).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!