Conducting Successful Interrogations

Building a Good Relationship

Investigators can achieve significant success in interrogations by ensuring that the subjects remain the central focus in interrogations, surpassing even the interrogation plan, the themes and arguments, the environmental considerations, or any other component. Individuals often confess for no other reason than their respect for and trust in their interrogators.10 Therefore, investigators must build a good relationship with subjects. Anything that appears more important than the subjects or the relationship may prove detrimental to the interrogation process.

Moreover, investigators should consider some specific critical personal elements. These components focus on empathizing, not sympathizing, with the subjects’ views of the world and attitudes toward interrogation. The perspectives and outlooks of subjects and investigators lie in opposite directions. Therefore, investigators should consider the interrogations, the crimes, and the discussed life experiences from the subjects’ points of view. To succeed, investigators should examine some of the human variables that result in different viewpoints.11 Such variables can include differences in sex, culture, values, and economic circumstances, as well as personal needs and goals. As investigators realize and understand these differences, interrogations become more personal and more effective.

Allowing Enough Time

Investigators must remember that successful interrogations require a certain amount of time to complete. Some confessions or admissions come quickly, but most do not. Those involving a polygraph examination usually occur between the second and third hours of the interrogations session. Generally, the chances of obtaining a confession increase 25 percent for every hour (up to 4 hours) of interrogation.12 Investigators spend up to the first hour of the session learning about the subjects, building rapport, obtaining background information, and discussing the crimes. Verbal and nonverbal responses form the basis of the investigators’ evaluations concerning the subjects’ degree of truthfulness and degree of criminal involvement. It takes time for investigators to observe these responses and relate them to the critical issues of the cases. Stopping after 30 minutes or an hour of interrogation dooms investigators to a 75 percent interrogation failure rate.13 Admitting the truth will impact profoundly on these subjects’ lives and relationships. Subjects make critical life decisions based on their personal needs, wants, and perceived ideas about their situations balanced against the themes, arguments, and facts presented by interrogators. Such a complicated process requires ample time to conclude successfully.

Acquiring Adequate Training

Interrogation training greatly increases the probability of success. Formal interview and interrogation courses that have earned the respect of the law enforcement community offer a valuable training experience. Numerous officers advise that they would not have obtained confessions in many of their investigations without such training.14 Large police departments, law enforcement academies and associations, federal agencies, and commercial vendors offer several excellent courses.15 Further, a few years of on-the-job interviewing experience provides officers with a useful background before attending formal classroom training.

Knowing Some Interrogations Will Fail

No investigator can succeed in every interrogation. At least 10 percent of subjects will not confess regardless of the investigator’s talent or hard work.16 Professional, hard-core criminals fall into this category of interrogation failures. These subjects are often repeat offenders and know the criminal justice system well.17 Many exhibit sociopathic tendencies and display antisocial behavior, especially to authority figures. Even though interrogating these subjects frequently proves unsuccessful, investigators may be at the right place, at the right time, to produce the right reason for a subject to confess. In any case, investigators should not become discouraged if their best efforts do not yield productive results with these types of criminals.


Interrogations fail for any number of reasons. Addressing and eliminating the interrelated, identifiable causes can prevent most failures. Preparing adequately, understanding the interrogation process, and appreciating the subjects’ needs and values remain paramount in achieving successful interrogations. Additionally, sufficient training and ample experience in conducting interrogations provide specific assistance to investigators involved in the process. establishing a well-developed plan and allowing sufficient time for the interrogation to evolve also prove important factors in ensuring successful interrogations.

All of these elements need constant attention for investigators to acquire the information critical to successfully resolve their cases. Properly addressing these factors greatly contributes to increasing the number of confessions obtained from guilty or involved suspects and to reducing the number of times officers are duped by these individuals. While interrogation failures impact all aspects of the criminal justice system, the investigators conducting these inquiries remain the most critical factor in reducing these failures. With adequate training, increased awareness, and established plans officers can become successful interrogators and effectively reduce the number of unsolved crimes that plague not only the law enforcement community but also the general, law-abiding population.


  1. Arthur S. Aubrey, Jr., and Rudolph R. Caputo, Criminal Interrogation, 3rd Ed., Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, IL, 1986, pp. 37.
  2. John MacDonald, MD., and Lt. David Michaud, The Confession- Interrogation an Criminal Profiles for Police Officers, Apache Press, Denver, 1987, pp. 149.
  3. Bert Decker and James Denney, You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard, St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1992, pp. 34-35.
  4. Ibid., pp. 16.
  5. Supra note 1.
  6. Miller v. Fenton, 106 S. Ct. 445, 1985.
  7. Stan B. Walters, Principles of Kinesic Interview and Interrogation, CRC Press, NY, 1996, pp. 2.
  8. “The Reid Technique of Interview and Interrogation,” Advanced Course Study Guide, John E. Reid and Assoc., Chicago, 1989, pp. 23-25.
  9. Supra note 2, pp. 84-90.
  10. Frederick Link an Glen Foster, The Kinesic Interview Technique, Interrotec Assoc., Riverdale, CA, 1989, pp. 56.
  11. Los Angeles Police Department Interview and Interrogation School Course Study Guide, undated, pp. 6.
  12. Ronald W. Hilley, retired FBI polygrapher and instructor, interview by author, June 3, 1997.
  13. Ibid.
  14. This information is based on the author’s experience teaching these courses for the past 10 years.
  15. Such organizations include the Los Angeles Police Department, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, the FBI, and the Georgia Police Academy.
  16. To the author’s knowledge, no interrogation publication claims higher than a 90 percent success rate. None of the hundreds of interrogators interviewed by the author over the past 10 years admits to a success rate higher than 90 percent. Retired FBI polygrapher Ronald W. Hilley advised that federal polygraphers maintain a “…65 to 70 percent confession rate, on the whole.”
  17. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, Times Books, NY, 1984, pp. 180-181.

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