Law enforcement agencies within the United States, as well as throughout the world, have made dramatic improvements within their technology, equipment, training and tactics over the last several years; it has certainly been that way during my 23 years of service and personal experience within the field of law enforcement. Advancements within the area of criminal investigation have also improved the quality and accuracy relating to the identification, collection, preservation and examination of physical evidence. Advancements in DNA technology has convicted many individuals who may have gone free otherwise, and it has also set free many individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime; some of whom have escaped being put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. In addition, forensic databases for DNA, fingerprints, ballistics and others have truly enhanced the way investigators solve crimes.
There is no doubt about it; policing today is different than it was 10, 15, or 20-plus years ago. However, one thing still remains; we need to obtain information from people such as complainants, victims, witnesses, suspects and informants. With the advancements in the “high-tech” world of policing, we must ensure that our “high-touch” skills, those skills necessary to deal effectively with the human element of every case, do not go by the wayside. These skills encompass the ability to develop and maintain rapport with people, ask appropriate information-gathering questions, and assess verbal, non-verbal, and behavioral indicators of truth and deception as well as paralinguistic information. We must be able to gather this information and make assessments and judgments to direct our investigations, and we must be able to distinguish the differences between truthful and deceptive information, as well as when the information is completely true but incomplete.
Throughout the United States and Europe, as well as countries around the world, an emerging technique to effectively gather information from people and assess for veracity and completeness of the information is the process of Investigative Statement Analysis. This is the systematic analysis of the words used by an individual whether written or spoken. Unfortunately, many people within law enforcement do not understand the value that training in Investigative Statement Analysis brings to any investigative inquiry, going beyond the written statement itself.
Some people are under the belief that the only application of Investigative Statement Analysis is having the suspect write out a statement of his own volition, and then analyze it for indicators of deception. That certainly is very effective, but it is a very limited view of the power and value of Investigative Statement Analysis. The principles of this technique can be applied to victim and witness statements, court transcripts, e-mails, memos and other documents, and most importantly, applied during any investigative interview or criminal interrogation.
When an investigator is trained to ask appropriate, effective questions and is tuned into what the individual actually says, and is not misled by pragmatic implications, they have an enormous advantage during their interviews and interrogations. They will have greater focus and be able to direct their questioning within the areas most likely to produce the desired result; the result being a clear understanding of the truth regarding the incident under investigation.
During the investigation of a double homicide for instance, a possible suspect was interviewed, and during the course of that interview he stated, “I was watching TV around 7:00 and the next thing I knew my alarm went off and I got up for work.” Understanding that this is a ‘red flag’ and a clear indication of missing information, we were able to focus our questioning on this area, which coincidentally occurred at the time when we knew the crime was committed. Actually, it was not coincidence at all, but a subconscious attempt on the subject’s part to establish an alibi in the hopes that we would rule him out as a possible suspect of this horrific crime. We did not ask where he was at a specific time, just for him to tell us everything that happened form the time he got up until the time he ended his day, and when his language had indicators of missing information in addition to him putting in the time of the crime at the point where there was missing information, we knew we had a good suspect. Ultimately the individual confessed to repeatedly stabbing his girlfriend and his 4-month old son.
An excellent example of a written application of Investigative Statement Analysis occurred recently within a police agency in Eastern Connecticut. A couple officers from that agency attended our training session Investigative Statement Analysis. Within three days of receiving training, one of the officers was assigned to an armed robbery and was tasked with interviewing the victim. He stated prior to the interview he asked the victim to write down everything that happened and obtained an open statement as discussed in training. Within minutes he had the victim’s account of the armed robbery, and the officer immediately picked up on various points indicating a possible fabricated account. The victim was interviewed further and ultimately admitted that the armed robbery was in fact fabricated.
Just from these two examples we can see the value of Investigative Statement Analysis by applying it to an account of a crime and having the subject write down everything that happened, and also by approaching an investigative interview and interrogation with the knowledge and understanding of the principles of Investigative Statement Analysis. Most people will certainly agree that the more information and training we have, and the more tools on our proverbial “tool belt”, the more effective we will be in conducting our investigations. Training in Investigative Statement Analysis is certainly one of the tools that can be applied in virtually all of our investigations, because all of our investigations involve that one common element…people.