The Interviewer – Are Those Being Interviewed Telling The Truth Or Are They Lying? Part III

The pros and cons of utilizing the cognitive interviewing model is not simple, in fact at times it may be complex for the law enforcement official. Statistics have demonstrated that in using the cognitive interviewing model provided the interviewer with 42% additional information than using a non-structured interview model.
By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc


The cognitive interviewing model was developed by R. Edward Geiselman and Ronald Fisher in 1984 and revised in 1987. In the beginning Geiselman and Fisher used a questionnaire type interview model to obtain information from individuals they interviewed. After three years and changing the model from the experience they obtained, the cognitive interviewing model was on its way to being utilized by law enforcement agencies internationally and nationally.

When the law enforcement officials decided to utilize the cognitive interviewing model, they found out that the interview process takes longer than the majority of interview models because of several reasons the two most being it is thorough and complete. There is a higher level of concentration in using the cognitive interviewing model. The reason for the high concentration is because the model requires using visual imagery.

Visual imagery is basically a flow of thoughts you can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste. The child sexual abuse interviewer when using the cognitive interviewing model wants the child victim to discuss these types of senses.   These senses should be broken down individually and questions should be created and communicated to the witness so questions which are generally not asked are asked and the information is obtained.

When interviewing child victims and witnesses, the key to success is the retrieval aspect of obtaining the 

information. The cognitive interview model specifically advocates using memory retrieval cues in questioning the witness. One of the aspects of the reinstatement context is asking questions which surrounded the incident.

Environmental questions such as, “Was the television on; did anyone hear you scream; was it raining outside; did anyone see him coming out of your bedroom; when you left the bedroom were you crying; and do you think someone saw you crying?”

All of these environmental factors and questions, combined with the visual imagery, the six senses and etc. bring about an interview which should provide additional details. The model will enhance the information retrieved to the point that when the law enforcement official began the interview had no idea existed. This is why it is important for law enforcement officials to be objective, neutral, approach the interview with an open mind and conduct a fact-finding interview.

In training law enforcement officials in how to conduct an interview, it is important that the police trainer uses the example; that in order to be a proficient and effective interviewer, it is imperative that the law enforcement official learns to walk in the shoes of the witness.  In using this example, it provides the officials with an understanding of how the child victim and/or witness heard, saw, smelled, and felt the specific incident.

There is no trickery in having the law enforcement official follow in someone’s footsteps when conducting an interview. When interviewing a witness, the law enforcement official must not allow the witness to take control of the interview. Sometimes, the witness will begin drifting off the subject matter and the official needs to re-direct the witness back on point.

There is no trivial question and/or answer. The smallest detail may lead the witness into providing the law enforcement official with information which could change the entire perspective of the allegations. The official needs to listen very carefully to what specifically the witness is telling them.

Failing to listen or observe how the witness’s body language presents when the witness is answering a question, may be the downfall of the law enforcement official. The need to ask hypothetical questions should be considered as a last resort as the hypothetical questions could confuse the witness.

Sometimes in order to trigger the memory, the official might find it necessary to provide an example of what information the official is looking for. The problem with this advice is the official may contaminate the witness’s true memory of the incident. Once the water has been muddied, there is no way of returning it back to the crystal clear appearance it once had.

The interview should be performed in a chronological manner. The law enforcement official should tell the witness specifically how he/she will manage and control the interview. The official needs to ask the questions in such a manner that the incident is told like a story; there is a beginning, the body and then the ending.

If the witness can stay on focus, they should be able to provide the official with enough details that the incident reconstructed, will be rebuilt, thorough and complete.
At the conclusion of the interview the law enforcement official should go through the facts of the interview with the witness to make sure that the information the official received was specific, detailed, and informative.

The need to be as exact as possible is important as the information must be set in concrete. The official doesn’t need the witness to come back at a later date and time and tell the official that the information they told was incorrect and/or a lie.

Next article, I will continue discussing how the law enforcement officials when interviewing a child sexual abuse victim and witnesses should utilize the cognitive interview model.  Additionally, we will discuss the specific steps that the official should take to guarantee that the witness is providing a true and reconstructed representation of the facts.

Forensic Child Sexual Abuse Investigations Part 1 
   By: Lawrence W. Daly                                                             
  Webinar Time- September 22, 2011 1:00 pm -2:00pm
   Registration Fee - $99.00

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