Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Investigative Interviewing: The Anonymous PI Method Part One - Before The Interview

As Polonius said in Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2) "Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t."

I guess it's time that I touched upon the practical aspects of conducting an interview - or at least the way that I have been doing them for the past few years.

This is quite a lengthy topic so for sake of sanity, yours and mine, I'll break it down into several smaller posts over the next few weeks. And, to begin, we'll look at what preparatory steps should be taken prior to conducting any investigative interview.

However, there is one other matter to clarify first.


What's the difference?

Well, quite a lot. In a nutshell, an interview is a process of questioning an individual in a non-accustatory, non-adversarial, manner in order to obtain information pertinent to the matter investigated. The subject of an interview can be the suspect, victim, witness, or an informant.

On the other hand, an interrogation is generally the questioning of a suspect in order to obtain a confession.

Since we are, or at least I am, a civil investigator with no statutory powers compelling a subject to comply, and am usually conducting an interview on behalf of a company with a relationship to maintain with said subject, the softly-softly approach is mandated.  Remember, they can tell you to piss off at any time - you need their continued co-operation.

We interview, not interrogate.

And the purpose of the interview is to obtain a formal account from the subject, on record, that later may be either corroborated or shown to be false. It is usually the starting point of an investigation and therefore of primary importance. 


There are basically three ways you could conduct a formal interview.

  1. The Written Interview. Basically all you will need is a pen and paper. Quite of a lot actually, even a simple 30 minute interview will actually take considerably longer and fill screeds of paper.

  2. The (Voice) Recorded Interview. A simple digital voice recorder. I use the Sony PCM M10 but have a cheap Sony as backup. (Not that actual model but similar).

  3. The Video Interview. A digital video camera, tripod, possibly a separate external mic.

For a variety of reasons, I prefer to record the interview on a voice recorder. I have an ex-police typist do transcripts for me at a very reasonable price and usually provided the following day. 

However, as a backup, I always carry pre-printed sheets in case the subject does not want to be recorded but is willing to continue with a written interview. I've only done one video interview (actually, it was closer to an interrogation) but for our usual purposes this isn't necessary.

Keep in mind that interviews are best conducted face-to-face, in person. While phone interviews might be considered in some instances, they should generally be avoided where possible and come with their own problems and issues to address.

In any case, irrespective of which format of interviewing you choose, one thing that is vital is having the subject sign a disclosure statement where they confirm, among other things, their consent to be recorded. I will go into further detail on this disclosure statement in Part Two.  


At I have stated earlier, I generally seek to adhere to the PEACE model of investigative interviewing - the 'P' standing for 'Planning and Preparation'. And that means:  

  1. Read the file. Yeah, I know what you are thinking - kind of obvious right? Well, never overlook the obvious and don't become complacent because it's the 1000th stolen vehicle claim you've investigated. Read the file. It's all in there. And if it isn't in there, why not?

  2. Identify key points to guide questioning. While the majority of, say, stolen vehicle claims may share broad similarities, and therefore a standard line of questioning, every case will have its own individual peculiarities. What questions need to be asked of the subject in this particular case?

  3. Prepare any accompanying evidence to be questioned. If you have photographs you are going to refer to in the interview, give each an code that you can refer to that clearly distinguishes one from another. Even if it is "Photograph One", "Photograph Two" and so on.  
And it's also prudent to keep the following in mind.   

  1. Don't jump to early conclusions. Okay, so maybe you are interviewing someone as part of an investigation into their insurance claim. Clearly, there are irregularities with the claim which has red-flagged it for investigation. However, just because there are irregularities doesn't necessarily mean that the subject is involved in any kind of insurance fraud. It could merely be a case of misunderstanding or miscommunication. Which leads us to remember to...
  2. Remain objective. Ultimately, it shouldn't matter to you one way or another whether the subject is guilty, or not, or whether their claim is accepted or declined. We are only interested in the truth, as cliched as that sounds.
  3. Remember the goals of the investigation. An interview serves several purposes. The first is to obtain a narrative of events from the subject which can be later verified or demonstrated to be false. This is particularly important in insurance claims investigations as if the claimant had been withholding, or providing false, information the claim can be declined. It also serves as an information-gathering exercise to guide further enquiries and subsequent interviews with the subject may be required as further information comes to light. 
Ultimately, the time spent on planning and preparation will be determined by the complexity of the case. My general rule of thumb is there's no need to overthink the matter, just spend enough time to get a solid grasp based on the information that is provided at the outset and formulate a basic plan in regards to the interview. From that you can review what you have learned and decide on what further steps need to be taken. Nothing is set in stone, you need to be able to adapt as required.

Part Two will look at conducting the interview itself.

Good times.

No comments:

Post a Comment