Today’s Investigative Special Report – December 19, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “When Law Enforcement Investigates A Potential Crime By What Set Of Rules Do They Conduct The Interviews?”

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc
Forensic Expert – Senior Author
A potential crime just occurred and law enforcement officers are responding to it. The attempted abduction and sexual assault of a child has just occurred. Upon their arrival an unnamed elderly woman tell the first responders that she and the child were walking in the same direction when a black car pulled up about a half-block ahead of them on the same side of the street.
English: SAN DIEGO (April 28, 2011) Signs stat...
English: SAN DIEGO (April 28, 2011) Signs stating sexual assault statistics line the course of the 5K to Stomp Out Sexual Assault run at Naval Air Station North Island. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and presents an opportunity for units around the world to dedicate focused attention on the importance of eliminating the crime. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stephen D. Doyle II/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The young female victim, probably 12 years old, who was walking in front of her by approximately by 10 feet was minding her own business as she whistled and walked in the direction of where the black vehicle had stopped. A man got out of the car and as the girl approached the man he came around his vehicle and approached the girl. She immediately stopped and turned around and looked at the woman. She said the man then grabbed the girl and tried to put her into his car. She said it was obvious the man and girl didn’t know each other so she yelled at the man to leave the girl alone; that she had his license plate number and he best leave before she called the police. The man let go of the girl, ran back to his car and got back into his car, and drove off in an erratic manner.
The first responders did exactly what they were supposed to do when talking to the unnamed elderly woman, which was to allow her to talk. As the above dictates the woman was able to provide the officers with much information and she appeared to know what was important when it came to providing the details of what had occurred.
The set of rules the first responders abided by in allowing the woman to talk was taught to them at the police academy some years ago. They had utilized these interview rules over the past couple years and found that the dialogue between them and witnesses proved to be of benefit to them in receiving information. The officers recognize that the people they talk to come from a variety of cultures, education, and experience in dealing with a possible criminal act. However, there are just people who enjoy talking and when this occurs the officers know that one of the rules they learned was to have the witness refocus and to remain on task why providing them with the information they needed to establish if indeed a crime was or wasn’t committed.
Too often law enforcement officers have a tendency to disregard the rules they were taught years ago while attending the academy and being part of the field training program, where experienced and senior officers taught them interview rules. Some officers believe that shooting from the hip is a better rule to follow and this has proven to be a successful manner in which to interview witnesses.
The problem with those officers who do their own thing i.e. create their own rules is that the rules established by the law enforcement agency they are employed by make the decision to follow what is considered the proper rules in the law enforcement community. These rules were created and established by educated, trained, and experienced interview experts who have the knowledge and competency in this field.
Many times interview law enforcement rules are established because a forensic scientist who deals with human behavior creates a scientific study which provides relevant and material information 
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
which is not based on hunches, but scientific facts and results. This solid information demonstrates what is appropriate and inappropriate interview rules for officers to follow.
Another rule in interviewing witnesses is to immediately separate them so there is little to no tainting or contamination of their individual testimony. A crime scene is where witnesses generally gather and begin talking to others about what they observed and heard. Moreover, as soon as the witnesses are separated the officer needs to stress to the witness that they need to focus on the information they have which will assist the 
officer in determining what exactly happened from their view point.
Each time the interview of a witness moves to another level i.e. the witness have reliable and credible information about what happened prior to the police arriving, this interview needs to be audio/video digitally recorded. The specific reason that the interview needs to be memorialized is so there are no questions about what was asked at a later date about what was and wasn’t said during the interview. Moreover, this demonstrates that the officer wanted the information documented so it provides others that the officer didn’t have a hidden motive or agenda.
When approaching the witness the officer needs to be positive, objective, and neutral in his demonstration that the matter is being handled seriously, confidently, and intelligently. There are some individuals who do not care for law enforcement officers and will try to make the information they have a laughing matter.
In identifying who the witness is establishes one of the interview rules which assist the officer in determining who they are in reference to their relationship with the alleged victim and perpetrator. If the witness has a proprietary interest in the case it is unlikely that the information will be credible and reliable. The witness may provide information to the officer, which supports either the alleged victim or perpetrator which is inconsistent with what the other witnesses described as what they observed or heard.
Typically, the identification of who the witness is and how the officer may have to contact them at a later date is a necessary investigative step when interviewing a witness. Imagine the witness tells the officer that she doesn’t know the alleged perpetrator but in his nervous and anxious thought process tells the officer his address which is the same as the alleged perpetrator. This happens more often than most people can imagine.
The officer may have to admonish a potential witness in what his expectations are during the interview and that any nonsense is not appropriate and will not be tolerated. An obstruction of justice may be a criminal charge a witness may find themselves facing if they fail to be cooperative in the investigation. This is not a preferred investigative approach that the officer wants to take but sometimes the officer needs to make his rules the way the interview will be handled. Sometimes the rules need to be adjusted depending on their individual circumstances.
When it comes to child sexual assault cases it is a rare occasion to find a witness who actually observed a perpetrator sexually assaulting the child. This type of crime is committed behind doors and when no one else is present in the room. The testimony generally consists of the child’s word versus the perpetrator’s word. Since this is not that uncommon the courts have allowed some leeway with how the child and others will be able to testify in a court of law.
English: Law enforcement officers investigate ...
English: Law enforcement officers investigate the crime scene on January 8. Photo by Steve Karp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The hearsay rules allow witnesses who heard the child tell them what happened to her to testify to what the child said outside of court, in a court of law. This hearsay rule provides strength in what the child had to endure. Sometimes, the child may have evidence on their body which can be linked back to the perpetrator. Again, locating, identifying, and collecting any evidence in a child sexual assault case is rare. The key for the officer to determine if a crime did or didn’t occur is to establish some type of collaboration evidence. This type of evidence can be medical, trace, physical, and possibly blood. The collaborative evidence itself may establish that a crime occurred and that the perpetrator’s version of the incident was proven to be false.
The rules of interviewing witnesses and investigating any type of case should be consistent within the community of the law enforcement profession. If the case is a possible abduction like the story above or a fist-fight, the manner in which the law enforcement officer approaches the case is so important.
A competent and intelligent officer takes the necessary steps to insure that they are following rules which were established by educated, trained, and experience scientists who created a set of rules which provides methods and techniques to bring out the most important information, which is credible, reliable, intelligent, competent, logical, and reasonable.
If the proper rules are followed by the officer then the outcome just may provide him with enough information where he will be able to determine if a crime did or didn’t occur. Finding the truth is one of the greatest challenges an officer faces when performing interviews of witnesses who agree to abide by the rules. In the end an alleged victim and perpetrator deserve that law enforcement officers follow the rules to determine if indeed a crime was or wasn’t committed. Rules are established to be followed and when it comes to taking away someone’s freedom then it is vital that everyone adhere to them, so all parties believe an objective fact finding investigation occurred.

Lawrence W. Daly
Kent, WA

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