Thursday, March 27, 2014

Investigative Interviewing: The Anonymous PI Method Part Two - Conducting The Interview

Following on from Part One where we looked at preparations beforehand, this installment focuses on conducting the actual interview itself.

However, it's not just a matter of rocking up and asking the tough questions, no. There are still a number of factors to carefully take into account as well as setting the stage for the questioning.

Bear in mind this is a brief overview of the interview process. Perhaps in the future I might look at specific areas in greater detail.

So let us begin.


Carefully consider where you will be interviewing the subject. For the most part, and depending on the type of case you are working, you could reasonably expect to conduct the interview at a location of the subject's choosing and convenience. This is most likely to be their home.

However, if you are conducting a work place investigation, you might have the use of an office or boardroom.

Otherwise, particularly if the subject is a bit wary of having you in their house, they might suggest they come to you or meet at some other location. I have conducted interviews in cafes, libraries, bars (really not ideal), or even in my vehicle parked up at some mysterious rendezvous location. 

Generally, you can expect the interview location to be outside your control but you would ideally be looking for a quiet area without too many distractions such as loud music in the background. Even if conducting the interview in a public place, be mindful of protecting the privacy of the subject and not having the details of the interview overheard by others.

Many cafes, for example, have meeting rooms available for a nominal fee and it would be worthwhile to build up a list of good interview locations in your area.

In regards to seating, I prefer to sit with no obstructions between the Subject and myself. So rather than be on opposite sides of a desk, for example, I'd sit at the corner so as to have a full view of the Subject. Obviously, this is not always going to be possible but it is the preference. Witnesses should be seated to the side.


Sometimes, the Subject wishes a witness or support person to be present at the interview, particularly if they feel they are a suspect in whatever matter is being investigated.

Similarly, if the Subject is known to be difficult or has a history of making vexatious allegations, it is in your own interest to bring along a witness. This protects you in case the Subject is later to make an allegation of impropriety or the like against you. In cases where the Subject is female (and you are not), a female colleague would be preferred.

If the Subject has brought a witness or support person, it needs to be openly stated prior to the interview that their role is in support capacity only and it is important that they do not say anything during the interview. If there is something that they really feel the need to say, to indicate at the time so that the interview can be paused.

The interview is a conversation between the Interviewer (you) and the Subject.


Prior to commencing the interview, I have the Subject complete a standard disclosure form which states:

  • Date and time and location of interview
  • Subject's full name, date of birth, and current age
  • Subject's current residential address
  • Subject's contact details - phone, mobile, email
  • Witness' full name (if applicable) otherwise yours 
  • Summary of interview subject (and file reference if applicable) 
For insurance claims investigations, there is also a warning statement along the lines of the subject understands that if they supply incorrect, false, or incomplete information and know it is not true, it may affect the claim being settled in full or in part and their future insurability.

Then there are privacy waivers under certain relevant Acts whereby the Subject authorises us, on behalf of our Client, to make other enquiries as required, if required, with other Parties. For example, we usually append a copy of this disclosure when making an Official Information request for a police file.


Another thing I like to do, usually when completing the paperwork pertaining to the interview, is have the Subject give me a concise narrative of the events in question. This gives me the opportunity to listen for any inconsistencies from information already supplied or pick up other points of interest to query upon later in the interview.

It also allows me not to sound completely retarded when asking questions later.

Another thing I like to do is explain to the Subject how the interview is carried out and what is to be expected from them. I point out that it is in Question and Answer format apart from a brief introductory statement. I also explain that if they wish to pause or take a break during the interview to let me know. If there are any support persons present with the Subject, I remind them that their role is not to take an active part in the interview.

This is part of the 'Engage and Explain' process in the PEACE method of interviewing.

I then ask if the Subject is ready to proceed or has any questions and, if not, I turn on the Digital Voice Recorder and we begin...

I begin by stating the date, time and place the interview is being conducted. I state my name and that I am interviewing the Subject (by name) in relation to whatever the matter is. For confirmation I ask the Subject to state their full name and date of birth then ask if they have read and signed the disclosure document. If there are any witnesses present, I also provide their names at this point.

I then ask the Subject to confirm that they have consented to the interview being recorded on Digital Voice Recorder.

Once the preliminaries have been dealt with, I start by asking the Subject to recount their version of events in regards to the matter being investigated. Ideally, this will be a single narrative from the Subject but sometimes they may be a little lax on the amount of detail disclosed and require some prodding for elaboration.

We want details and this phase in the PEACE interviewing framework is titled 'Account'.

Once we have a broad statement from the Subject, we can start asking questions to address the concerns we had previously identified in our preparatory stage. The questions should be open-ended rather than closed, inviting the Subject to provide further elaboration rather than a yes/no answer.

Interviewer: Do you know Luscious McCoy?
Subject: Yes. 

Interviewer: How do you know Luscious McCoy?
Subject:  She's a dancer at Klub Kitty Kat and we've been sort of seeing each other for a few weeks now...

Consider the initial part of the interview an exploratory phase where you are seeking to obtain as much information from the Subject as possible and by asking open-ended questions we are facilitating that.

And now for the really important bit - when the Subject is giving you their account, you have to be listening. Really listening. Intently. To ensure that I have understood what I have been told, I quickly paraphrase the salient points and ask if that is correct.

This is called active listening and is really vital in the interview process.

By this stage, we should have a good amount of detail from the Subject and we can begin addressing any inconsistencies in their account and a mix of closed- and open-ended questioning can be used to good effect here.

Interviewer: Earlier in this interview you stated that you were not at Smokey's Jazz Bar until 7pm the night of Johnny Badlove's murder, is that correct?
Subject: Yes, that is correct.
I: Is your mobile number 555-0201?
S: Yes.
I:  Can you please explain the text message sent from that number to Luscious McCoy at 6.20pm that same night which said "I'm having drinks at Smokey's right now, come join me."..?
S: Uh.....

Perhaps it may be best to think of the interview process as a spiral. At first, the questions are broad and innocuous but by the end of the interview they have become direct and to the point.
Closed-ended questions can be used to confirm specific pieces of information you had already been given and should be utilised when challenging the Subject. 

Which brings us to...


Okay, this is a bit tricky because a lot will depend on the nature of the interview and the case in question. As most of my interviews are in regards to insurance claims investigations, the general purpose of the interview is to obtain a detailed account from the Subject, on record, to guide other enquiries. If something seems strange or unusual at the time, usually we say nothing, make further enquiries to either corroborate or rule out the account provided and can ask for an explanation at a second interview.

Very rarely will we actually accuse the Subject of deliberately lying - at least in the first interview.  


So now we've obtained a narrative from the Subject, clarified certain points of interest and covered any specific areas identified in our interview preparation. Now what?

Well, we end the interview with a few pro forma questions if in regards to claims investigations and then we ask the following:

Has everything you have provided in this statement been true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

You have made this statement knowing that it might be used for the purposes of a standard commital or at a commital hearing and that you may be prosecuted for perjury if you have made any statement known by you to be false and intended by you to mislead?
Then I thank the Subject and note the time the interview is terminated.

Then I quickly let the Subject know what is likely to happen next - such as I send the interview away to the Client and will make other enquiries where required. Also, if I have other expectations from them, such as obtaining other information or evidence (photographs etc) I will explain what it is I need and make the necessary arrangements to get those from them as soon as practical.

If they have any further questions from me, I will do my best to provide answers.

Oddly enough, this is the 'Closure' aspect to the PEACE method. 


We will look at the post-interview evaluation and other aspects in Part 3 to our gripping series.

Bet you can't wait.

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