The Reid technique is a method of questioning suspects to try to assess their credibility, developed by consultant and polygraph expert John Reid. Supporters argue that the Reid technique is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects.
Critics have charged the technique can elicit false confessions from innocent people, especially children. Reid’s breakthrough case resulted in an overturned conviction decades later
Nine steps of interrogation
The Reid technique’s nine steps of interrogation are:
- Direct confrontation. Advise the suspect that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
- Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will psychologically justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
- Try to minimize the frequency of suspect denials.
- At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the acknowledgement of what they did.
- Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
- The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
- Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. As stated above, there is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
- Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
- Document the suspect’s admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).
Critics of the technique claim it too easily produces false confessions, especially with children. The use of techniques that are acceptable in the United States, such as lying to a suspect about evidence, are prohibited in several European countries because of the perceived risk of false confessions and wrongful convictions that might result, particularly with juveniles.
In Canada, Provincial Court Judge Mike Dinkel ruled in 2012 that “stripped to its bare essentials, the Reid technique is a guilt-presumptive, confrontational, psychologically manipulative procedure whose purpose is to extract a confession.
It was discovered in December 2013 that an unreacted copy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogation manual had been impermissibly placed in the Library of Congress and was available for public view. The manual confirmed American Civil Liberties Union concerns that the agency used the Reid technique.
Abuses of interrogation methods include falsely accused suspects being treated aggressively and told lies about the amount of evidence proving their guilt. Such exaggerated claims of evidence, such as video or genetics, has the potential, when combined with such coercive tactics as threats of harm or promises of leniency, to potentially cause innocent suspects becoming overwhelmed.
3 Police Interrogation Techniques You Should Know (And Why Not All of Them Work)
- We’ll beat the truth out of you: the traditional method.
Historically, confessions were a simple matter of applying the so-called third degree. Depriving the subject of food, water and sleep, applying physical discomfort, beating him with a rubber hose so as not to leave marks and even threats or intimidation eventually broke a subject or caused him to accept whatever story he was being fed — simply to stop the abuse. The intimidation would also continue a bit longer, however, in order to get the subject to sign a paper saying he had not been coerced and his statement was voluntary. With the paper in hand and a blindfold over the statue of Lady Justice’s eyes, the admission would seal the suspect’s fate.
It was not until 1937, when the court threw out a seemingly voluntary confession — obtained by officers who had strung a suspect up in a tree and repeatedly whipped him to get him to agree to perjure himself — that harsh techniques were gradually abolished.
- We can tell yer lyin’ by the way ya blink yer eyes: the Reid technique.
The most popular modern technique for interrogation — the one that has been taught in most police academies since the 70s — is the Reid Technique, named after the Chicago policeman who developed it in the 40s. It relies on a careful building of rapport, tests for reliability on known answers to control questions, and observation of body language to identify anxiety, which, according to Reid, is a signal for lying.
Unfortunately, according to Douglas Starr, who published and did extensive research on the method, the Reid technique relies on outdated and discredited science and unqualified psychology. 40 years of extensive psychological research has debunked the idea that anxiety connotes lying. Anxiety is a normal reaction to being in a high stress situation. Conversely, there are many liars who can look you in the eye and tell you with conviction anything they want you to believe.
A good account of the Reid process is described by S. J. Parris; “they twisted every answer I gave until it sounded like the opposite meaning, and I became so confused and afraid I found myself agreeing to statements that I knew were not true.”
- Hey buddy, you can trust me: good cop, bad cop.
Even small children have heard of the good cop, bad cop routine, when their parents team up — one nurturing, one angry and threatening — to find out who ate the cookies (after they have already found crumbs on her tiny mattress). In a high pressure situation, many people will open up to someone offering compassion, and even go along with suggestions to ensure that the presumably nice person will continue to protect her.
On the other hand: the suspect’s viewpoint.
The suspect, whether innocent or not, must realize that they are playing a game of perception. They don’t want to appear to have anything to hide, and want to be seen as cooperative, so they are already open to transgressions against their rights. They may waive their Miranda rights in the United States (to stay silent unless their attorney is present) because they will be told by authorities that they don’t need that protection if they have nothing to hide. Innocent people bite on that lie almost every time. They may have faith in the justice system and — if actually innocent — they figure the truth will come out and justice will prevail.
Yet sometimes the facts may be so obtuse and convoluted, or the alibi (“I was watching TV alone at home, nobody was with me”) will not be enough to save them. Justice will not prevail because nobody is willing to look farther for the truth once they have an admission.