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Observing the Interview Subject Before the Interview

One of the things we strongly emphasize in our 3 Day Interview & Interrogation class, is the importance of establishing a baseline of a subject’s behavior before you can accurately begin to detect deception. In other words, what does the subject normally look like (non-verbal) and sound like (verbal) when he is telling the truth? This is his baseline. From this, we look for deviances in verbal and non-verbal behavior that indicate deception.

Establishing this baseline should begin with observing the subject even before the interview begins – from the moment he arrives at the pre-designated interview location.

When the subject first arrives at your facility, you should allow her to wait in the lobby or waiting area for a bit. You should avail yourself of the opportunity to observe the subject in this environment. Did she come alone or with someone else? Is she making conversation or sitting quietly? Is she still and quiet, or nervous and fidgety? Is she alert and attentive, or sleepy and unaware? Compare and contrast these behaviors with the behavior you would expect to see in a truthful and innocent person. Are these behaviors consistent or at odds?

Ultimately, you will bring your subject into the interview room where he will again wait a short period of time before you begin the interview. You must have the ability to observe your subject during this time (and during any subsequent breaks in the interview). Again, do you notice any behaviors that are inconsistent with how we would expect a truthful and innocent person to act in the identical circumstances?

For example, if we make an arrest in the field and bring the subject to the police department for a custodial interview, we would expect the truthful and innocent person to be upset to one degree or another. This person would want to know what’s going on and generally have an earnest desire to get to the bottom of things so he could be released. We would not expect him to be sleeping, laughing, or joking around prior to being interviewed as that would be inconsistent with how an innocent person would behave in that situation.

As always, we must listen and observe a person carefully in order to obtain the truth.

Paul & Enrique have been team teaching Interviewing & Interrogation together since 1997. They are the principals of Third Degree Communications, Inc.

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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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    —R. Bret Fidler, Santa Clara County Probation Department
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    —Kimberly Meyer, Washoe County Sheriff's Department
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