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A questionable police interrogation technique is going out of favor

| Mar 16, 2017 | Wrongful Convictions

You may not know the Reid Method of police interrogation by name, but there is a good chance you are familiar with it through the depiction of police questioning in movies and on television.

The “confrontational” interrogation strategy includes tactics such as extensive questioning in small quarters, assertive presentation of evidence (real or manufactured), and repeated accusations of guilt. The Reid Method has been used for decades by police forces nationwide and produced thousands of confessions.

That’s why it surprised some in law enforcement when Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates (often shortened to “WZ”), a leading provider of interview and interrogation training services for federal law enforcement organizations, announced earlier this month that it will no longer offer training in the Reid Method.

Higher Risk Of False Confessions

WZ President Shane Sturman says the decision to cease training the Reid Method comes in large part at the behest of many of its law enforcement clients, who are wary of the risks of false confessions the interrogation tactic is known to produce.

“It’s human nature to deny and defend oneself. Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information,” Sturman says. “In future classes, WZ will only discuss the Reid Method in effort to highlight potential risks posed in obtaining a false confession, or to illustrate the major advantages of using the WZ non-confrontational method.”

Sturman adds that the Reid Method has remained unchanged since it was introduced more than 50 years ago, while policing itself has evolved drastically. Non-confrontational interrogation techniques that do not push a suspect into an emotional or defensive state are broadly viewed as more effective – or at least more reliable in terms of the information produced.

False Confessions Don’t Serve Anyone’s Purposes

Nearly 30 percent of DNA exonerations in the United States since 1989 have involved false confessions to a crime. Studies have shown that a person may confess to a crime he or she did not commit for a number of reasons, including:

  • Mental or intellectual deficiencies
  • Being interviewed without a lawyer or parent present
  • Emotional or physical exhaustion caused by marathon interrogation sessions
  • A belief that authorities will provide favorable treatment if the accused cooperates with them

“The goal of any interviewer should be to identify the truth,” states a message on the WZ website. “Unfortunately, investigators have sometimes felt pressure to obtain a confession or may have biases based on the investigation that direct their focus on the wrong subject. Our mission at WZ is to provide investigators with a variety of tools to obtain truthful, reliable information as a part of their investigation.”

Individuals accused of a crime can take solace in the move toward more progressive interrogation techniques. However, numerous pitfalls in the justice system remain. It is always wise to enlist the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer before agreeing to a police interview.

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