Deception and its Detection

Detective Wesley Clark
Connecticut State Police
Western District Major Crime Squad

This article originally appeared in Connecticut Trooper Magazine, Fall 1998.

As a member of the law enforcement community for the past twelve years, I have made it my commitment to seek the truth in all matters, personal and professional. During my career I have encountered, as all other police officers throughout the state and country, those individuals who do not necessarily hold tight to the same values when it comes to truth. Though the reasons for this deception may vary, as do the investigations in which they arise, the intent of the subject in question is always the same; to mislead you and/or your investigation. As a detective with an ever-increasing caseload, that is something I am not willing to accept. With Statement Analysis as one additional tool available to you in your pursuit of the truth, you will be able to focus your investigations and reach an accurate conclusion to many cases.

Breaking Tradition

One of the most difficult problems to overcome will probably be the past practice and training of police officers in obtaining statements. The standard procedure has been to obtain a statement through the course of an extensive “question and answer” format. One drawback of this type of questioning is that it is give-and-take, and the subject can learn from you what you know or don’t know about the case through the questions you ask, thus he may learn “how to lie” through this questioning. Secondly, information obtained from an open statement (i.e. “What happened?) will generally be more reliable in terms of assessing the truthfulness of the subject. Therefore, with statement analysis, we obtain a statement from the subject prior to questioning him or her. The statement will then be analyzed and a detailed questioning of the subject will follow. However, we will enter the questioning phase with a greater understanding of what the subject actually revealed within the statement, and where the subject left information out. We will be able to assess the truthfulness of this subject, learn which areas in the statement are sensitive for him to talk about, and gain insight into his relationships with other people mentioned within the statement. Many other benefits are obtained from this type of approach, which are all to our advantage, and at the same time he obtains little if anything from us. To better understand this concept, consider obtaining a statement from the subject prior to questioning him like playing Poker, but prior to placing a bet, you get to see what cards your opponent is holding!

Obtaining the Statement

In obtaining a statement from an individual, we must first distinguish between two different types of statements.

1) Specific Statement: A statement provided by the subject in regards to a particular event.

  • A witness reporting an armed robbery.
  • A victim of a sexual assault.
  • A driver involved in a serious motor vehicle accident.

2) An Alibi Statement: A statement obtained covering a particular time-frame.

  • Write down everything from the time you got to work until the time you left
  • Write down everything from the time you woke up until the time you went to bed.
  • Write down everything from the time you left your house until the time you arrived at work.

In both circumstances, it is essential that the subject provide his or her statement with the least amount of influence from the investigator as possible. The subject should not be questioned prior to obtaining the initial “pure statement”. Obviously, in almost all cases, the subject will have talked to someone prior to the arrival of the detectives, such as the initial responding officers at the scene, medical personnel, witnesses, bystanders, or an accomplice. Just keep it in mind that the more questioning the subject undergoes prior to providing an “open statement” the less effective the analysis of the statement may be.

We will first deal with the Alibi Statement. With this type of statement, we will provide the subject with the “borders” within which we ask him to tell us everything that happened during this time frame. This would be effective with cases such as internal theft, where an employee may be suspected of stealing money from their employer. If this theft occurred on a particular shift, ask all the employees to “Write down everything that happened from the time you got to work until the time you ended your day”. The information provided within the statements will enable a detective to focus the investigation to the most probable suspect, thereby eliminating the majority of the employees from further interviews. The obvious advantages are that you do not waste your time interviewing 20, 30, 40 or more people who know nothing about the crime, but you become focused on the most probable subjects. From a personal perspective regarding time and case management, this should be gladly accepted, freeing you up to pursue the important leads in the case or other more pressing investigations to which you are assigned. Also, from a management perspective, knowing your Sergeant is waiting to assign you with the next “big one”, a more efficient use of your time and energy on your assigned cases will be appreciated and of course positively reflected in your paycheck. (Well I won’t go that far!)

Some key points we would look for in Alibi statements may be; did the subject provide information “outside” of the borders of your instructions, telling us what happened before or after that period. If so, this would be sensitive and important information. Other points may be that the subject “skips” over a period of time within this statement, or the flow of the statement may “speed up” or “slow down”. Or if the subjects language changes in reference to a particular person or object, or if there are “linguistic signals” showing sensitivity at a particular place within the subjects statement. These observations will be very significant if the time they occur within the statement is the time we suspect the crime to have been committed.

In a Specific Statement we do not want to provide the subject with a starting or ending place. We would simply ask the subject to “Please tell me everything that happened…”. In these cases we allow the subject to set the borders, and in doing so it will provide us with more information and enable us to better evaluate the statement.

In a Specific statement, such as a case where a female reported she was raped, some points we would consider are the “borders” she provided. In doing so we divide the statement into three sections. These three sections being information she provides prior to, during and after the assault. The “balance of the statement” will be evaluated by comparing these sections to each other, and to the statement as a whole. Changes in the subject’s language would be analyzed and the context in which these changes occurred would be evaluated to see if the change was “justified” by the circumstances.