TACIT Toolkit

The toolkit gives you easy access to information about areas of language and communication within which problems were attested when conducting an investigative interview. The toolkit lists issues detected within the TACIT project, points out their consequences, suggests solutions and further reading on each topic.

All the language and communication factors detected in the TACIT police interview database and presented in the toolkit affect investigative interviewing in relation to interview duration, quality and quality of information.

Negative questions, complex statements-questions, and unresolved language conflicts in translation make police interviews lengthier, less accurate and less informative than they can be.

Communication devises such as mitigation, quotation and empathy expressions make interviews lengthier but are needed and beneficial if used properly.

The toolkit provides explanations for why these factors create problems in police interviews and offers solution to the problems.

List of Entries

Pre-Interview Planning

Problem

WHAT AND WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED IN PRE-INTERVIEW PLANNING IN INTERPRETER ASSISTED INTERVIEWS?

Time Constraint: Planning is a fundamental part of the recommended interview framework for police officers, but whether officers undertake, or have the time to undertake, necessary planning ahead of interviews remains a problem.

Different Participant Attitudes: Many interpreters welcome the opportunity to have advance notice of relevant case issues. Others may have concerns that such knowledge can lead to bias and impact on the quality of the interpretation. Evidence suggests interpreters are not frequently involved in a pre-interview briefing.

Inherent Difficulty of The Interpreting Process: Linguistic and cultural differences as well as the cognitive and emotional load make interpreting inherently difficult. What can be done to alleviate the many pressures and ensure quality of service and attainment of investigative goals?

Solution - Part 1

INTERVIEW PLAN (actions for investigating officers- Part One)

The interview plan summarises the aim(s) of an interview and provides framework for questioning. It can increase the confidence of the interviewer and provide the flexibility to conduct a professional and effective interview. A written interview plan should be used for witnesses and victims, as well as suspects.

Planning And Preparation

This is one of the most important phases in effective interviewing. The success of the interview and, consequently, the investigation could depend on it.

A planning session that takes account of all the available information and identifies the key issues and objectives is required, even where it is essential that an early interview takes place.

Interviewers should consider the following:

  • create and record the interview plan
  • characteristics of the interviewee
  • practical arrangements
  • making a written interview plan.

Interview Plan

Planning and preparation give the interviewer the opportunity to:

  • review the investigation
  • establish what material is already available
  • decide on what the aims and objectives of the interview are.
  • Every interview must be prepared with the needs of the investigation in mind. How the material is obtained during interview helps to establish the accuracy of the matter under investigation and should be considered carefully.

Points to Resolve Before Starting

  • Respective roles of participants (e.g. who is interviewing who is note taking, if two officers present)
  • Who needs to be interviewed and in what order?
  • Why is a particular interviewee’s viewpoint so important?
  • What information should now be obtained?
  • Should the interviewee be interviewed immediately or would it be more useful to wait until more information has been obtained about the circumstances of the offence from other sources?

Practical Arrangements

These can include (if appropriate)

  • visiting the scene(s)
  • searching relevant premises
  • location of the interview
  • role of interviewers
  • timings
  • equipment
  • exhibits and property
  • knowledge of the offence

Solution - Part 2

INTERVIEW PLAN (actions for investigating officers- Part Two)

Interviewee Information

Individual characteristics should be taken into account when planning and preparing for an interview. These may include:

  • Age – knowing the interviewee’s age helps determine the best time to undertake the interview and whether an appropriate adult/interview supporter is required
  • Cultural background – this can affect the way a person prefers to be addressed, and may also indicate the need for an interpreter
  • Religion or belief – e.g., interviewers may need to take prayer requirements into account
  • Domestic circumstances – this can help to identify other people who may be useful to the investigation, e.g., family, associates or neighbours
  • Disability, physical and mental health – knowledge of an existing medical condition and ensuring that appropriate facilities are used
  • Previous contact with the police – this helps to determine factors such as the interviewee’s reaction, and the interviewer’s safety
  • Gender – in certain types of crime, e.g., sexual offences or domestic violence, it is important to consider the gender of the interviewee. Potentially sensitive issues such as an interviewee’s sexual orientation or gender assignment should be approached tactfully, if these matters become relevant to the interview.

A Written Interview Plan Should Include

  • The time a suspect has been in custody

– (investigators should be aware of the detention clock and its impact on the interview)

  • The range of topics to be covered around identified time parameters

– (this may vary depending on whether it is a witness or suspect interview)

  • The points necessary to prove the potential offence(s) under investigation
  • Any points which may be a defense for committing the offence(s) under investigation
  • Introduction of exhibits
  • Material which suggests the suspect may have committed the offence
  • Identified information which may assist the investigation
  • Any other relevant points

– e.g. actus Reus (guilty act), men’s rea (guilty mind), intention, no valid defense

  • Planning for a prepared statement, special warnings, adverse inference, significant comments or silences

Solution - Part 3

INTERVIEW PLAN (actions for investigating officers- Part Two)

Interviewee Information

Individual characteristics should be taken into account when planning and preparing for an interview. These may include:

  • Age – knowing the interviewee’s age helps determine the best time to undertake the interview and whether an appropriate adult/interview supporter is required
  • Cultural background – this can affect the way a person prefers to be addressed, and may also indicate the need for an interpreter
  • Religion or belief – e.g., interviewers may need to take prayer requirements into account
  • Domestic circumstances – this can help to identify other people who may be useful to the investigation, e.g., family, associates or neighbours
  • Disability, physical and mental health – knowledge of an existing medical condition and ensuring that appropriate facilities are used
  • Previous contact with the police – this helps to determine factors such as the interviewee’s reaction, and the interviewer’s safety
  • Gender – in certain types of crime, e.g., sexual offences or domestic violence, it is important to consider the gender of the interviewee. Potentially sensitive issues such as an interviewee’s sexual orientation or gender assignment should be approached tactfully, if these matters become relevant to the interview.

A Written Interview Plan Should Include

  • The time a suspect has been in custody

– (investigators should be aware of the detention clock and its impact on the interview)

  • The range of topics to be covered around identified time parameters

– (this may vary depending on whether it is a witness or suspect interview)

  • The points necessary to prove the potential offence(s) under investigation
  • Any points which may be a defense for committing the offence(s) under investigation
  • Introduction of exhibits
  • Material which suggests the suspect may have committed the offence
  • Identified information which may assist the investigation
  • Any other relevant points

– e.g. actus Reus (guilty act), men’s rea (guilty mind), intention, no valid defense

  • Planning for a prepared statement, special warnings, adverse inference, significant comments or silences

Solution - Part 4

INTERVIEW PLAN (actions for investigating officers- Part Three)

Brief the Interpreter and Learn from Interpreter

Even in cases where the interviewing officer does not deem it appropriate to discuss all case details with an interpreter, the pre-interview briefing (PIB) is an important forum for a brief discussion of the following:

Best language: The PIB allows space to consider cases in which the interviewee’s choice of language for the interview is one that they are not fully proficient in.

English language proficiency: Suspects, victims and witnesses may have some command of English and bypass the interpreter at certain points of the interview. How will the officer monitor this and who will re-establish interpreter mediation? In victim interviews, using English can be a way to try to stress truth telling. Levels of proficiency may be highly variable, however, and need to be monitored to prevent impact on the quality of evidence obtained.

Free narrative recall: Effective cognitive interviewing requires interviewees to speak at their own pace and allow thoughts to flow. How will the interpreter handle longer stretches of information without compromising the aims of the interview? Telling interviewees to keep answers short because an interpreter is present goes against the purpose of free narrative recall.

Cultural matters: Interpreters are not expected to provide opinions on the substance of interviews but the PIB can be a useful forum for a brief discussion about matters of culture relevant to a particular type of case.

  • For example, in domestic abuse cases, interpreters may be in a position to brief the interviewing officer on the way in which such cases are handled in the victim’s country of origin. This would support the officer’s understanding of the victim’s cultural background and expectations, and help the officer adjust the framing of the interview questions

Handling distress: The basic details of the case not least help prepare interpreters psychologically for the dealing with what might be very difficult issues, and enable them to be impartial and neutral when translating the difficulty issues.

Benefit

Planning and preparation give the interviewer/investigator the opportunity to:

  • review the investigation
  • establish what material is already available
  • decide on what the aims and objectives of the interview are.
  • every interview must be prepared with the needs of the investigation in mind. How the material is obtained during interview helps to establish the accuracy of the matter under investigation and should be considered carefully.

Planning and preparation give the interpreter the opportunity to:

  • to be informed about potentially upsetting exhibits (photos, etc.)
  • to discuss strategies for how interaction will be handled in cases where the interviewee attempts to bypass the interpreter and use limited English
  • to draw attention to cultural and contextual knowledge that may impact on an interviewee’s
  • understanding of the purpose of the interview / nature of the crime
  • to remind the officer to explain key concepts associated with the case as necessary
  • to advise the officer when the interpreter (for whatever reason) needs breaks

It has been found in mono-lingual interviews an association between the level of preparedness and the gathering of reliable and comprehensive information (which after all, is the central aim of investigative interviewing, regardless of whether the interviewee is a victim, witness or a suspect).

It is reasonable to assume that this is also the case for bi-lingual interviews. While other factors are also likely to affect whether this aim is achieved such as building and maintaining rapport (see also Empathy), a well- planned interview conducted by well-prepared professionals is likely to make a significant contribution.

It will also signal an effective working relationship between interpreters and police interviewers.

More information

KEY READING: College of Policing, Investigative Interviewing,

https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/investigations/investigative-interviewing/

 

Mayfield, K. (2016) The issues and challenges surrounding interpreter-assisted investigative interviews of victims and witnesses.

Unpublished MA Dissertation. London Metropolitan University. Available through the college of policing portal.

Mayfield, K. and Krouglov, A. (2019) Some aspects of the role of interpreters in investigative interviews. Training Language and Culture, 3(1), Available at: http://rudn.tlcjournal.org/archive/3(1)/3(1)-06.pdf

Walsh, D., Oxburgh, G., and Amurun, T. (in review) Interpreter-assisted interviews: Examining investigators’ and interpreters’ views on their practice Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

Shepherd, E., & Griffiths, A. (2013) Investigative interviewing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, L., and Walsh, D. (2019) Striving for impartiality. Pragmatics and society, 10, 127-151.

Tipton, R. 2017. ‘You are foreign, you are nothing in this country’: Managing risk in interpreter-mediated police interviews with victims of domestic abuse’, Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, 75: 119-138. Special Issue on Practices in Intercultural Mediation:

PSI in Perspective (eds C. Toledano Buendía and M. Arumi Martín).

Tipton, R. 2019. ‘“Yes I understand”’: Language Choice, Question Formation and Code-switching in Interpreter-mediated Police Interviews with Victim-survivors of Domestic Abuse’, International Journal of Police Practice and Research, DOI: 10.1080/15614263.2019.1663733

 

Things you need to know:

What do the Current Guidelines Say About the Involvement of Interpreters in Pre-Interview Planning?

 

Scotland

The 2018 Standard Operation Procedure for Interpreting and Translation Services (Scotland) make specific good practice recommendations about the pre-interview phase:

  • 1.1 Good practice requires that an interpreter called upon to assist the police should be fully briefed on the circumstances giving rise to that requirement for their services, prior to being deployed in an interview, particularly in relation to the sensitivities of the case e.g. child protection or sexual allegation.
  • 1.2 The officer conducting the interview should seek the interpreter’s advice as to the most productive structure in terms of the procedure for conducting the interview.

More information – https://www.scotland.police.uk/assets/pdf/151934/184779/interpretingand-translating-services-sop

 

England and Wales

In England and Wales, guidance on working with interpreters in police interviews is under review. The 2012 Practice Advice on European Cross-border Investigations includes the following guidance on pre-interview planning with interpreters:

  • 1.9.1 Ensure that the interpreter is briefed about the nature of the assignment and the subject of the interview. Interpreters can use this briefing to prepare themselves mentally for the terminology and process, which will help to improve the quality of the interpretation. This will also afford the interpreter an opportunity to refuse the assignment if it is beyond their capabilities.

More information – http://library.college.police.uk/docs/appref/european-cross-border-investigations.pdf

Negative questions

Problem

BIASED & HARD TO PROCESS

ExampleDo you not think that strange that an unknown man left his valuables with you?

Negative questions are hard to understand and prejudicial.

They are harder and take longer to process.

They are more difficult to answer.

Their use lengthens interviews.

Their presence Increases the risks of misunderstanding.

Negative questions convey an expectation, or bias, on the part of the speaker toward a specific answer to the question.

They can presuppose information that is not actually correct or given.

They increase the risk of “smuggling” information into the interview context by the speaker.

They represent an additional source of difficulty that may contribute to uncooperative behaviour.

They have properties of both assertions and questions, and they are not neutral requests for information.

It is not clear how whether the answer should start with a yes or a no because either can be used for the same purpose, e.g. denial of prior knowledge

Q – “Did you not know that the man had a gun?”

A – “Yes, I did not know” OR “No, I did not know”.

Negative questions and other types of biased questions in conversation go against the ideal of cooperation in communication.

Solution

AVOID & USE POSITIVE QUESTIONS INSTEAD

Avoid negative questions, and instead use positive questions or clear, simple statements followed by open-end or yes/no questions:

Example: So, a man you do not know well left his valuables with you. Do you think this is strange?

Benefit

ENHANCED SPEED, ACCURACY & CHANCES FOR RAPPORT

Avoiding the use of negative question creates an opportunity for rapport, increases the chances of getting a higher quality of information and maintains neutrality and fairness of treatment

Avoidance of negative questions will increase interview speed and enable elicitation of better quality (more accurate) information as well as result in higher likelihood of cooperative behaviour and communication.

More information

KEY READING: Filipović, Luna. 2019. Police interviews with suspects: Communication problems in evidence-gathering and possible solutions. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10(1): 9-31

Reese, Brian and Nicholas Asher. 2010. Biased questions, intonation and discourse. In Information Structure: Theoretical, Typological and Experimental Perspective, ed. by Malte Zimmermann and Carline Féry,139-173. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heinemann, Trine. 2006. “Will You or Can’t You?”: Displaying Entitlement in Interrogative Requests. Journal of Pragmatics 38: 1081–1104.

Heinemann, Trine. 2008. Questions of accountability: yes-no interrogatives that are unanswerable. Discourse Studies 10: 55–71.

Heritage, John. 2002. The limits of questioning: negative interrogatives and hostile question content. Journal of Pragmatics 34: 1427–1466.

Language differences & Interpreting

Problem

UNRESOLVED MEANING CONFLICTS AND MISCOMMUNICATION

Example: I dropped her on the stairs.

Is this on purpose or not? In English, speakers are not obliged to say. In some other language different constructions are used for intentional vs. non-intentional meanings.

It should not be up to the interpreter to decide which one is meant by the speaker!

Different languages have different ways to structure meaning. Words and constructions in one language do not have completely equivalent, perfectly matched meanings in other languages.

Insights from linguistic typology (part of linguistics that studies similarities and differences among languages) make it possible to understand what human languages have in common as well as how languages differ from one another. Well-trained interpreters should be aware and be able to explain the key differences.

Failure to understanding potential conflicts in translation due to typological differences between two languages can affect the accuracy of the translation and lead to misleading information which can affect interview outcome.

For example, failure to understand the relevant typological contrasts can result in a wrong rendition of information about non-intentional acts as intentional!

Solution

STOP COMMUNICATION, SEEK EXPLANATION & PRESERVE SPEAKER MEANING!

Officer briefing: Get informed by the interpreter beforehand about key differences between languages and conventions of use that are likely to be relevant in the exchange and in translation (see more under Pre-Interview Briefing). Allow interpreter to stop the communication flow if ambiguity from one language cannot be rendered in the same way in the other (as in the example I dropped her on the stairs). In some languages you have to decide which meaning is intended, on purpose vs. accidental dropping, and it MUST NOT be up to the interpreter to make that decision. However, it should not be up to the interpreter to resolve any ambiguity – it should be the officer’s task to be alert to unresolved ambiguity and rephrase the question.

Interpreter briefing: Interpreters need detailed briefing about the case (more than name, age and gender of interviewees), which includes key topics of conversation and key terms to be used. The interpreters can then provide linguistic briefing to the officer, which can alert him to key points of potential linguistic or cultural sources of conflict in communication, and of ambiguity and misunderstanding.

Organise joint training for officers & interpreters: Police officers and interpreters benefit from joint language and communication training. They become more alert to each others’ concerns as well as more aware of the differences regarding typological contrasts that make interpreting difficult. Learning about language contrasts and the effect of unresolved conflicts in translation that result from them brings about attested benefits to investigative interviewing as well as to the working relationship of these two professional groups. Typological differences in several basic domains have so far been identified as persistent sources of difficulty in translation and interpreting across a variety of languages: evidentiality (information about the source of evidence –directly witnessed vs. second-hand), intentionality (information about activities as accidental vs. on purpose), motion (information about how somebody or something moved) and posture (information about the precise position of objects, such as sitting vs. lying). We update our materials as the research findings become available. See our on-line training course for details.

Benefit

ASSURANCE OF INFORMATION QUALITY AND SPEAKER EQUALITY

Mutual briefing and joint training of police officers and interpreters reduces the risk misunderstanding or loss of information in investigative interviews.

Increased knowledge about language contrasts and how they play put in translation results in more accuracy and more detail made available about events and factors of relevance as expressed by the speaker (e.g. information about intentionality and culpability).

Resolving conflict in communication due to language or cultural differences is a
worthy reason for interruption in the interview flow. Interpreter must not make
decisions about what the speaker meant – clarification needs to be explicitly sought from the speaker by the police officer when it becomes impossible to render
speaker’s meaning appropriately without further clarification and the interpreter
needs to alert the officer when that is needed. This will ensure better quality of
information, better standards of practice and equality in access to justice.

More information

KEY READINGS:

Hijazo-Gascón, Alberto. 2019. Translating accurately or sounding natural? The interpreters’ challenges due to semantic typology and the interpreting process. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10(1): 73-96

Filipović, Luna. 2019. Police interviews with suspects: Communication problems in evidence-gathering and possible solutions. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10(1): 9-31.

Filipović, Luna. 2007. Language as a witness: Insights from cognitive linguistics. Speech, Language and the Law 14(2): 245-267.

Filipović, Luna. 2013. The role of language in legal contexts: A forensic cross-linguistic viewpoint. In Freeman, M. and Smith, F. (Eds.) Law and Language: Current Legal Issues (15). Oxford: OUP, 328-343.

Filipović, Luna and Abad Vergara, Suzanne. 2018. Juggling investigation and interpretation: The problematic dual role of police officer-interpreter. Law and Language, 5 (1): 62-79.

Filipović, Luna, and Alberto Hijazo-Gascón. 2018. Interpreting meaning in police interviews: Applied Language Typology in a forensic linguistics context. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics VIAL 15: 67–103.

Krouglov, Alexander. 1999. Police interpreting: politeness and sociocultural context. The Translator 5(2): 285–302.

Ibarretxe-Antuñano, Iraide. 2012. Placement and removal events in Basque and Spanish. In The events of putting and taking. A crosslinguistic perspective, ed. by Anetta Kopecka and Bhuvana Narasinhan, 123–143. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Mitigation in Communication

Problem

ROLE AND PURPOSE

Example: “In your own words and your own time, can you tell me why you think you have been arrested?

Mitigation and aggravation tools in language are linguistics resources used in communication and related to speech acts and illocutionary force. The way the speaker talks and their intentions are speech acts and they are categorised based on illocutionary forces that characterise them as acts of promising, advising, warning, etc. based on intentions, purpose, or effect that is to be conveyed to the listeners.

Mitigation works as a device to help minimize the imposition of statement or a question. At the same time it is used to avoid or reduce the responsibility of the speaker while also aiming to protect the hearer from negative effects of what is said. This supportive mode of expression has a function to relieve some of the pressure from the interviewee before he/she proceeds to answer.

Mitigative words and phrases lengthen sentences so do we need mitigation?

Solution

LEARN HOW TO USE MITIGATION FOR DIFFERENT PURPOSES

Mitigation devices do lengthen statement and questions by the police but they also enable communicative exchanges that are less likely to result in uncooperative behaviour. Mitigation is a linguistic strategy and a feature of common, everyday conversations. A such it helps the speakers to minimise power distance and to establish a rapport between the interviewers and interviewees, which is conducive to cooperative communication. This ensures flow and quantity of information and reduces the risk of refusal to communicate.

The use of mitigation and aggravation strategies needs to be balanced and timed (see the section on Quotations) and mitigation is preferred (see Benfits). Mitigation must not be confused with sympathy or attempts to fraternise with the interviewee (as detected in the contexts of US interrogations; see Filipović, in preparation)!

Mitigation strategies and their used for different communication goals can and need to be taught. For example, mitigation is best used in initial stages of the interview but in later stages direct questions may be more appropriate (see Pounds, 2019 for details)

The use of mitigation in certain question formulation helps the speakers minimise power and distance, and establish rapport between the interviewers and interviewees, which is conducive to cooperative communication.

Some examples:

Checking understanding – Are you happy, do you understand the caution?

Judging and asking for views or opinion – Could it be that you are not the only person that is being taken advantage of?

Seeking approval – e.g. Would it be fair to say that you actively sought out material?

Benefit

RAPPORT BUILDING AND MORE INFORMATION QUANTITY

Using mitigation devices in communication helps create rapport between the interviewees and interviewers. It helps soften the severity of the communicative context, opening avenues for more cooperation. Mitigation occurs more frequently than does aggravation in UK police interviews and its aim of ‘checking understanding’ strengthens the relationship between the interviewees and interviewers.

The use of linguistic mitigation strategies enhances the relationship between the interlocutors (police officers and suspects) resulting in a good rapport and provides more engagements between the interlocutors than the opposite approach, of the use aggravation strategies.

The use of appropriate mitigation (e.g. indirect questions) in the challenging stage of the interviews may help soften the severity of the communicative exchange, enhancing the likelihood of more cooperative communication.

For example, saying “You said X and your brother said Y. Can you explain the difference?” rather than “You have lied” (see also Quotation section).

However, the use of appropriate directness in forms of request is also needed to clear indicate to the suspects that a concrete response is required and expected. The following is far too indirect and thus inappropriate:

“What would you say in your opinion is the youngest that you have perhaps seen in what we would class as maybe an incident?”. Instead, say: “How old were the people that you saw on these clips (estimate, if not known precisely)?”

Understanding of how linguistic devices for mitigation and aggravation operate in communication can maximise the interviewer chances to obtaining more reliable details during a police interview. This can be achieved through training using authentic examples to illustrate the effects mitigation and aggravation and to provide advice on their use.

More information

KEY READINGS:

De Pablos-Ortega, Carlos. 2019. “Would it be fair to say that you actively sought out material?”
Mitigation and Aggravation in Police Investigative Interviews. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10 (1): 50-72.

Pounds, Gabrina. 2019.
Rapport-building in suspects’ police interviews: the role of empathy and face. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10 (1): 97-124.

Schneider, Stefan. 2010. “Mitigation.” In Interpersonal Pragmatics, edited by Miriam A. Locher and Sage L. Graham, 253–69. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Thaler, Verena. 2012. “Mitigation as Modification of Illocutionary Force.” Journal of Pragmatics 44 (6–7) :907–19.

Caffi, Claudia. 2007. Mitigation. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Empathy and Rapport

Problem

Empathy and other rapport-creating strategies (such as expressing positive regard, solidarity-building strategies, mitigating face threats) are used in the police interview context but may not always be employed appropriately. Conversely, these expressions may not be used in contexts where they may be deemed appropriate.

This can breakdown communication and impact on the quality of the information gathered.

Rapport-building is recognised as important in a police interview with suspects but it is often confined to providing the suspects with information about their rights at the stage that precedes the actual interviews. There is less clarity as to how specific empathic and other rapport-creating expressions (see above) may or may not be used appropriately throughout the interviews and how they may be reconciled with the overall function of the interviews.

The inappropriate use of these expressions may be detrimental to the outcome of the interview, if it undermines rapport-building and/or if it impacts on the quality or validity of the information gathered.

Solution 1

USE EMPATHY APPROPRIATELY

GOOD PRACTICE:
  • I can see that you are upset [suspect crying or appearing emotional]
  • You said you were angry. Can you describe your feelings further?
  • I appreciate this may something that is difficult to talk about [suspect shows discomfort or stops talking]
BAD PRACTICE:
  • I imagine that you felt anxious
  • Didn’t that make you feel desperate?
  • Why were you so depressed?

[S did not describe him/herself as anxious, desperate or depressed. Speculative] 1

Solution 2

USE POSITIVE REGARD APPROPRIATELY

Good practice:
  • Thank you for your account 
  • They are using your bank details to commit fraud and living you here to answer our questions [Stating what already mentioned by S to probe potential innocence] 
  • You are clearly more knowledgeable about computers than I am [Praise on unrelated matters]
  • Is there anywhere that you were that I can investigate? [Referring to S’s interests)
 Bad practice
  • Great!  [In response to S’ statements]
  • Did your brother suddenly thrust the golf clubs [used to break the windows during a robbery]  in your hands when you were there [Assuming innocence but not mentioned by S]
  • You seem to be a very patient and thoughtful person  [Speculative/ condoning]

 

Solution 3

BUILD SOLIDARITY APPROPRIATELY

Good practice

Smiling/ chuckling or otherwise referring back to S’s general non-crime related experience and in low-intensity places of interview:

  • Yes, you don’t like parties
  • Yes, you never travel by train
 Bad practice
  • We all like a bit of porn
  • Anybody may react violently when insulted.

[Speculating and assuming about crime-related matter]

Solution 4

ADAPT TO SUSPECT’S EXPRESSIVE STYLE APPROPRIATELY

Good practice
    •  And you thought he is a “dodgy fucker”
  • What was that “little voice” telling you?

[Repeating S’s words]

 Bad practice
  • And you thought he is a dodgy fucker [Trying to imitate S’s communication style]
  • Do you know who made the ‘allegation’? [If S may not understand word]

 

Solution 5

USE HUMOR APPROPRIATELY

Good practice

Only with reference to peripheral interview aspects and low-intensity places of interview: 

  • You thought you were getting away with using those colour pens again [Colour pens used during interview]
Bad practice
  • So you thought you would do a bit of debt collecting because they owed you money [Ridiculing S and speculating]

 

Solution 6

MITIGATE FACE-THREATENING EXPRESSIONS, WHEN POSSIBLE

Good practice
  • Our investigators found that you were opening only sites displaying pornography involving children. Can you explain this? [Presenting discrepancies]
  • Should any of those facts, even the smallest detail change, the court may be less likely to believe you [Showing consideration for S’s legal position]
Avoid, if possible
  • I think you were going on the internet on the computer specifically to search for pornography involving children 
  • (I think) you are lying 

 

Solution 7

AVOID EXCESSIVE MITIGATION

Good practice
  • Tell me about the clips 
  • How old were the people that you saw on these clips?
 Bad practice
  • Would you mind telling me about the clips?
  • What would you say in your opinion is the youngest that you have perhaps seen in what we would class as maybe an incident or sexual nature on these clips

 

Benefits

  • The appropriate use of empathy and other related strategies help build rapport effectively during interviews with suspects, without jeopardising the efficiency of the interview.
  •  Appropriate use of these expressions facilitates information retrieval and reduces the length of the interview.

More information

KEY READING: Pounds, Gabrina. 2019.

Rapport-building in suspects’ police interviews: the role of empathy and face. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10 (1): 97-124.

Pounds, Gabrina. 2011. “Empathy as ‘Appraisal’: A New Language-based Approach to the Exploration of Clinical Empathy.” Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice 7(2). 139-162.

Walsh, David and Ray Bull. 2012. “Examining Rapport in Investigative Interviews with Suspects: Does its Building and Maintenance Work?” Police Criminal Psychology 27: 73-84.

Vallano, Jonathan, Jacqueline R Evans, Nadja Schreiber Compo, and Jenna M. Kieckhaefer. 2015. “Rapport-building during Witness and Suspect Interviews: a Survey of Law Enforcement.” Applied Cognitive Psychology 29: 369-380.

Quotation Statements

Problem

HELPFUL VS. UNHELPFUL DISRUPTIONS

Example:

Officer: “In your first interview you said you thought it was 4 am that you left the nightclub. Is that right?”
Suspect: “Can be, I don’t know.”
Officer: “Roughly that time?”
Suspect: “Three or four.”

Quotation statements (repeating what somebody has said) are common features in police interviews, and they are used to highlight discrepancies between current and earlier statements made by the suspect or other speakers (e.g. witnesses, victims).

The use of the quotation has the potential to disrupt and even stop an interview or delay its progress and diminish the chance of obtaining reliable information.

The use of the quotation can put pressure on the interviewee and contribute to the deterioration of rapport. This can leads to an argument between interviewers and suspects about inconsistencies related to the quotation rather than obtaining new and relevant information.

Quotations can extend interview time considerably and create a metacommunication loop (i.e. going in circles without provision of new information).

Solution

USE QUOTATION AS AN INVITATION, NOT AS A THREAT

The discrepancy between a previous and a current statement should be queried by the interviewers through the use of direct question at an appropriate moment and in a non-threatening way. The previous statement should not be quoted as ‘proof’ that the suspect lied but as a point of reference that needs further explanation.

The interviewers must be prepared to be confronted by an ‘explanation’ that is implausible or vague. They should nevertheless refrain from evaluating this explicitly as a sign of deliberate non-cooperation by the interviewee. Rather than being drawn into a metacommunicative loop of quoting and requoting (and lose both rapport and valuable time), they should use the suspect’s (latest) explanation as a platform to establish further information.

Gaining awareness of the metacommunicative function of quotations through interview training helps to avoid disruptive consequences and improve their cognitive value.

Benefit

KEEP YOUR INTERLOCUTOR AND EXTRACT MORE INFORMATION

The knowledge about the use of quotation, metadiscourse and ensuing conflicts can equip the police officer and the interpreter to face the task of eliciting evidence from interviewees more effectively.

Even when interviewees are principally compliant, they are likely to be stressed, sensitive to the danger of inadvertently incriminating themselves. They will try to maintain their social face in a challenging environment by maintaining that they are consistent in their statements.

Metacommunicative awareness that enables monitoring and assessing any cognitive inconsistencies is a valuable skill that can be integrated into the Evaluation stage of the cognitive interview. It helps fine-tuning interviewing skills.

Skilled use of quotations helps to avoid clashes that end in ‘metacommunication loops’ which provide no new information and can lead to an interviewee ‘clamming up’.

More information

KEY READING: Musolff, Andreas. 2019. “You keep telling us different things, what do we believe?” Meta-communication and meta-representation in police interviews. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10 (1): 33-49.

Ainsworth, Janet. 2012. “The Meaning of Silence in the right to remain silent.” In The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law, ed. by Peter Tiersma and Lawrence Solan, 287-298. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brendel, Elke, Markus Steinbach and Jörg Meibauer (eds.). 2011. Understanding Quotation. Linguistic and Philosophical Analyses. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.

Cotterill, Janet. 2005. “You do not have to say anything…: Instructing the jury on the defendant`s right to silence in the English criminal justice system.” Multilingual: Special issue on Silence in Institutional and Intercultural Contexts 24(1/2): 7-24.

Complex statements-as-questions

Problem

PROBLEMATIC FORMAT AND INFORMATION LOAD

Example:

Q: You commented that you knew yesterday when I wanted to speak to you what I was referring to, but if you thought that was all ok why would you know what I was talking about?

A: I didn’t understand, could you repeat that please?

How do we know the question is complex: E.g. because of the use of multiple relative clauses such as (“that you knew yesterday”, “when I wanted to speak to you”, “what I was referring to”) and a conditional (“if you thought that was all ok, why would you know what I was talking about?”).

These structures are difficult to process in any language because an interviewee is required to make multiple connections among multiple elements at once (among people or objects and their alleged characteristics and claims related to them).

Complex statements are common in police speak but they hard to process and easy to misunderstand.

Complex statements produce uncertainty as to what the procedure is, i.e. when is an answer expected. This type of question produces silence as confirmation while waiting for cue to respond.

It is difficult to process large information chunks and the consequence is not understanding the question.

The use of multiple relative clauses such as:

that you knew yesterday“, “when I wanted to speak to you“, “what I was referring to” and a conditional:

if you thought that was all ok, why would you know what I was talking about?

are difficult to process in any language because is required to connect the relatives to their referents at the same time.

Time is wasted on multiple reformulations of such questions.

Solution

CHUNK & CONFIRM

Chunk long statements and clearly signal your question by using a question format (e.g. a statement followed by an open-end or close end question about the statement).

Avoid using statements that contain multiple embedding statements, e.g.: phrase within a phrase or multiple uses of relative within a sentence.

Long and complex constructions with logical operators such as if- conditionals are also difficult to process. They create communication breakdowns and misunderstandings in both monolingual and bilingual interviews.

Avoid them or use simpler conditional sentences and ask for confirmation, e.g. in a format of:

Do you think that if A then B? [whereby A and B are both simple sentences]

Seek confirmation of understanding after the statement part and before the question part. Obtain a clear confirmation for each statement that is used as a prelude to a question.

Breaking down the complex statements and asking questions in a question format clarifies the communicative intention and heightens the probability of a relevant answer.

Define key terms related to the topic of the interview to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding (e.g. what is meant by the word “assault” or a phrase “incriminating behaviour”?).

Benefit

AVOIDANCE OF MISATTRIBUTION, MISINFORMATION AND MISUNDERSTANDING

Avoiding complex statements-as-question will improve accuracy in obtained information or evidence.

Avoidance of these statement-questions will prevent misinformation or misjudgement of factual detail as well as restrict evasive answers.

Producing statements that are simple and easy to process, as well as following these statements by simple questions, will improve communication, reduce possibility to exploit ambiguity and possibly lead to more cooperation. Less time will be required to find out more information and to confirm the details about an event that matter.

More information

KEY READING: Filipović, Luna. 2019. Police interviews with suspects: Communication problems in evidence-gathering and possible solutions. Pragmatics and Society special issue 10(1): 9-31.

Gibbons, John. 1990. Applied linguistic in court. Applied Linguistics 11 (3): 229-237.

Oxburgh, Gavin, Trond Myklebust and Tim D. Grant. 2010. The question of question types in police interviews: a review of the literature from a psychological and linguistic perspective. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 17(1): 45-66.

Elder, Chi-He and Kasia Jaszczolt. 2016. Towards a pragmatic category of conditionals. Journal of Pragmatics 98. 36-53.

Also see: Communicating Rights in Police Investigative Interviews

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