The Reid Interrogation Technique

If you’ve ever been involved in a traffic accident with another driver, you know that responding police have one primary task: to assign blame. One way or another, either you or the other driver is going to get nailed for the accident.

Shooting investigations are similar. Once police show up, their task is to find someone who is most likely to be guilty of a crime and gather evidence to prove it.

This is fine as long as the police investigate someone who has done something wrong. But when you have justifiably used a firearm to defend yourself, and the police suspect you of wrongdoing, you’re in for a terrible experience.

One thing police are trained to use against you is the “Reid Technique.” This is a multi-part method to gather facts, including a 9-step interrogation designed to pressure you into saying things that can be used against you in a court of law.

The investigating officer first performs a “factual analysis” to eliminate improbable suspects and determine who is most likely to be guilty of a crime.

Next comes the “behavior analysis interview” which includes a question and answer session. In addition to simple questions, the officer also asks questions intended to provoke reactions that can be interpreted as truth or deception.

Finally, there’s the “interrogation.” This is referred to as an “accusatory process” because the investigator tells you there is no doubt about your guilt and tries to make you believe he or she understands why you did what you’re accused of doing. It’s not so much a series of questions as it is a monolog by the investigator.

Here’s how this process is summarized on Wikipedia:

The actual demeanor of the investigator during the course of an interrogation is ideally understanding, patient, and non-demeaning. His or her goal is to make the suspect progressively more and more comfortable with acknowledging the presumed truth about what they are alleged to have done. This is accomplished by the investigators’ first imagining and then offering the subject various psychological constructs as justification for their behavior.

The first admission of guilt is usually obtained by asking the alternative question “Did you plan this out or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?” This technique uses language that contains the unspoken, implicit assumption of guilt. A famous version of this trick is, “Ma’am, have you stopped embezzling money from the bank yet?” The person under interrogation must catch the hidden assumption and contest it to avoid the trap. Otherwise, once the subject confesses to the proposed scenario, then active persuasion stops and the interrogator attempts to develop from the subject corroborating information that can be used to shore up the credibility of the confession. Critics regard this strategy as hazardous, arguing that it is subject to confirmation bias (likely to reinforce inaccurate beliefs or assumptions) and may lead to prematurely narrowing an investigation.

Nine steps of interrogation

The Reid technique’s nine steps of interrogation are:

Step 1 – Direct Confrontation. Lead the suspect to understand that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.

Step 2 – Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.

Step 3 – Try to discourage the suspect from denying his guilt. Reid training video: “If you’ve let him talk and say the words ‘I didn’t do it'[…]the more difficult it is to get a confession.”

Step 4 – At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the confession.

Step 5 – Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.

Step 6 – The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.

Step 7 – Pose the “alternative question,” giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. There is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.

Step 8 – Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.

Step 9 – Document the suspect’s admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).

As you can see, this is less about finding truth than it is about using psychological manipulation to get a confession. This may look obvious as you read this in the relative calm of your home or workplace, and you may assume that you could never be fooled which such a technique. However, remember that after a shooting, you will be in a state of shock. You will experience a swirl of intense emotions and physical effects that will prevent you from thinking clearly.

Police use the Reid Technique because they know how vulnerable you are and will take full advantage of this to assign blame and “get their man.”

Again, this is what the police are supposed to do. Their motives are good. However, in self defense shootings, innocent people often fall victim to aggressive investigative techniques like this. Even if you don’t give a confession, you could be manipulated into saying enough to give a prosecutor evidence to convict you.

Knowing what the police are doing can help you avoid this trap. But, as always, our advice remains the same. Don’t try to outsmart the police, just shut up. Assert your 5th Amendment Right of remaining silent and talk to legal counsel before talking to the police.