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Personal History Questionnaire

This month, we are going to examine the real purpose of the Personal History Questionnaire (PHQ). The PHQ is perhaps one of the most misunderstood documents we use. Many interviewers think that the PHQ is used to obtain biographical information from the interview subject. This is only partially true. The real purpose of the PHQ is to establish a baseline for the subject’s truth-telling verbal and non-verbal behavior as well as to establish rapport. Let’s examine these more thoroughly.

Let’s first acknowledge that the PHQ can certainly be used to verify and/or obtain biographical information about your subject. However, it is useful-essential in fact-for building the rapport necessary to successfully conduct later interviews and interrogations. Asking the subject non-threatening questions such as his name, address, and date of birth, allows the subject to get comfortable speaking with you. Since these questions are not “reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the subject” , you are able to ask them without obtaining a Miranda waiver.

From a technical standpoint, the PHQ is an important tool for establishing a baseline for the subject’s truth-telling style. What do we mean by baseline? A subject’s baseline is what she looks like (non-verbal) and sounds like (verbal) when providing truthful information. Since the PHQ elicits information that is essentially unrelated to the crime and thus non-threatening, the subject is most likely going to provide truthful information in response. The interviewer must both listen and observe the subject while she is providing responses to the PHQ questions. During the subsequent interview and interrogation, the interviewer will then look for verbal and non-verbal deviations from the previously established baseline.

It is critical to understand this concept of baseline behavior. Whether you’re speaking to someone from a different country, culture, or socio-economic background, deceptive indicators will vary from person to person slightly. For example, if a person avoids eye contact, does this mean he is lying or could it possibly mean that in his culture, direct eye contact is disrespectful? Without establishing baseline behavior during non-threatening questions, we might make a critical error in assessing this gesture.

Typical PHQ Information Collected:
• Agency Case Number
• Interview Facts (Date, Location, Time Started/Ended)
• Name (Legal Name, What does the subject prefer to be called – Joe v. Joseph)
• AKA/Salient Characteristics (all AKAs, Scars/Marks/Tattoos)
• Personal (Race, DOB, Height/Weight, Hair, Eyes, Male/Female)
• CDL/SSN
• Home Address and Phone Numbers (Home, Work, Pager, Cell, Carrier, Email)
• Company Name and Work Address (including Title and Length of Employment)
• Marital Status, Name of Significant Other (Married/Single/Divorced, Name of Spouse/Significant Other)
• Names/Ages of Children
• Education (Highest Grade Completed, Last School Attended)
• Military (Branch, Dates, Rank, Specialty)
• Nearest Relative Not Living with You (Name, Address, Phone)
• Prior Criminal Record (Crime Types(s), Agency, When)
   o If the suspect lies about prior arrests, do NOT challenge him or bring it to his attention; this is a great opportunity for you to see how he looks and sounds during a lie
• Health Issues/Present Condition (Under Doctor’s Care, Medications; Feel, Sleep, Eat/Drink)
• Vehicle Information (Year, Make, Model, License, Color, Style)
• Social Worker, Parole/Probation Officer (Name, Phone Number, Email)
• Ask if previously questioned but not arrested in another matter? (Where, What, When)
   o This may reveal prior information from a different agency that you otherwise would have no knowledge of
   o Previous questioning that did not result in an arrest or conviction is something that you most likely won’t find in any database
• Custodial/Non-Custodial (Custodial: Give Miranda warning / Non-Custodial: Give Beheler Admonition)

  • ...Provides useful tools necessary for assessing the veracity of a suspected child abuser, which goes a long way in helping to protect children.

    —Sunny Burgan, MSSW, LCSW, Social Work Supervisor, Santa Clara County DFCS
  • Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to attend the Interview and Interrogation training presented by Paul Francois and Enrique Garcia.

    —Todd Almason, Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office
  • You two are an effective teaching team, and your presentation of the material was consistently interesting, and intelligent without being too intellectualized.

    —Michele Keller, Deputy Probation Officer, County of Alameda
  • Your instructional style is engaging and your tag-team style is highly effective.

    —George Laing, Fire Prevention Captain, Investigator
  • Your class 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
  • I highly recommend this training for any Probation staff who have the necessity to interview/interrogate individuals for investigation purposes.

    —R. Bret Fidler, Santa Clara County Probation Department
  • I will continue to use and pass on this information because I really believe in the instructors and their approach.

    —Kimberly Meyer, Washoe County Sheriff's Department
  • Your class has made the greatest and most direct impact on my assignment of any training class that I've taken.

    —Ken Gelskey, National City Police Department
  • The information that they have presented is highly relevant to my job, and was presented in a manner that was highly organized and very easy to digest.

    —Michael McGarvey, California State Prison, San Quentin
  • This was, by far, one of the most useful classes I've attended since becoming an investigator.

    —Steven Aiello, Antioch Police Department