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Frontload Your Investigation Before Talking with a Suspect

Spectacular investigations begin with unspectacular work and preparation. Great investigators, whether in the public or private sector, create their opportunities for success. In this article, we will provide some simple steps to ensure greater success at obtaining the truth when you interview a suspect.  


Always prepare mentally for the unexpected, especially when you are the on-call investigator. Try not to be flustered or discouraged as new developments emerge – as they inevitably will. Stay focused on your game plan.

Safety First

Think safety for yourself, other officers, victims, witnesses, suspects, and the general public. Our personal experience is that many officers do not pat search people before interviewing them. This could have dire consequences if you’ve sized someone up incorrectly. Think about ways you could low key a quick pat search prior to interviewing people to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

Knowledge is Power

Be sure to stay current on case law, investigative protocols, and agency or company policies and procedures.

Have a positive mindset, but prepare for chaos!

Play to win – morally and ethically. You wear the white hat in this scenario – we must be above board in all of our investigative and interviewing practices. We’re the good guys!   Professional athletes visualize success – you should too with your investigations and interviews.

Investigative Strategy

Do a full court press on every case and you will be amazed with your results. Be relentless and creative about solving cases.

Remember the Goal

Our goal in interviewing is simple and pure: Obtain the TRUTH from everyone. Have an open mind and remember anything is a possibility – anyone can be a suspect. We must effectively and efficiently solve cases. People are counting on us to uncover the truth.

On-Call Cases

When you are “On-Call” and you get the big one, remember to take a deep breath and slow down. You set the pace at which things happen. Don’t get caught up in the madness. Take a “macro,” not “micro” view of the incident. Quickly gather information, such as:

·       Work-Ups on “everything” and “everyone” before you talk with the suspect(s): victims, witnesses, suspects, associated vehicles, associated addresses, anyone associated to the suspect.

·       Ask arresting officers: Did the suspect submit or resist arrest? Is the suspect under the influence of drugs or alcohol? What is the suspect’s demeanor -cooperative, remorseful, agitated, upset, etc.? Did the suspect make spontaneous statements? Did anyone read the suspect his/her Miranda Rights? Hopefully patrol has not done this, but as the investigator, you need to know.

·       Ask transport officers the same questions as arresting officers above. Also, find out if victims are being treated at a hospital. Call the officer at the hospital and determine the victim’s condition. Ask if the victim made any statements. If possible, ask the officer to ask the victim clarifying questions.

·       Delegate and ask others for help (remember to pay back the favor). Consider the following resources available to you: patrol officers/deputies, detectives, community service officers / police service technicians, records personnel, communications personnel, probation, parole, social services, other law enforcement agencies.

·        Visit the crime scene and consider expanding the crime scene. Ensure a crime scene “log officer” has been assigned. Canvass for evidence and collect any items potentially associated with the incident. Look for commercial or residential surveillance videos, citizen cell phone recordings, vehicle mounted video cameras, motorcycle helmet video devices (GoPro), etc.

·       Canvass for witnesses and give officers clear instructions on what information to obtain. Find out who was contacted and what they know about the incident. Ask if they own or rent the property. Obtain landlord information – another source of information you can use on follow-up. Look for audio/video camera equipment on the perimeter of the residence or building being canvassed. Ask about these  even if none are seen. Find out who lives or works there with them, who else was at home/work, and what time people left home/work. Make sure you contact these people and obtain their statement. Consider recanvassing at different times.

·       Ensure evidence is collected at the scene. Consider photographing and video-taping the crime scene. Obtain copy of surveillance camera footage. Make a sketch and note where all evidence was located. From the victim, consider collecting: photos, clothing, DNA swab (to eliminate the victim from the DNA collected at the scene), other evidence depending on crime type. From the suspect consider collecting: photos, clothing, DNA swab, blood sample, gunshot residue. From officers consider collecting: Photos and Body-Worn Camera footage, and any other pertinent transfer evidence. Personally review all evidence collected by others. Request written and audio copies of all incoming 911 calls and Dispatcher communication.  Review written information and listen to incoming 911 calls.

·       Ensure everyone associated with the investigation is interviewed: family, friends, neighbors, current and former co-workers, current and former girlfriends/boyfriends, enemies, etc.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but it should be enough to get you thinking about being prepared and creating your opportunities for success when handling an investigation.

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    —Julio Ibarra, Merced County Sheriff’s Office
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    —Kimberly Meyer, Washoe County Sheriff's Department
  • Your training gave me the confidence and tools to interview the suspect for over 5 hours and to bring a closure to the case.

    —Daniel Phelan, San Jose Police Department
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    —Ken Gelskey, National City Police Department
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    —Michael McGarvey, California State Prison, San Quentin
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    —Michele Keller, Deputy Probation Officer, County of Alameda
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    —Det. Brian Dale, Portland Police Bureau
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    —Sunny Burgan, MSSW, LCSW, Social Work Supervisor, Santa Clara County DFCS
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    —R. Bret Fidler, Santa Clara County Probation Department
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    —George Laing, Fire Prevention Captain, Investigator
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    —Mark Paynter, Oregon DOC
  • This was, by far, one of the most useful training classes I've attended since becoming an investigator.

    —Steven Aiello, Antioch Police Department
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