Emerging Trends Affecting the Admission-Seeking Interview

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A tense interview scene is a familiar staple in almost every dramatic cop show or movie made in the last 50 years. Sometimes there’s a good cop and a bad cop that use psychological push and pull in their interrogation. Sometimes it’s one determined veteran of the force, or rookie, that will do anything to get the suspect to confess. Emotions are visibly high and eventually the suspect breaks down and spills the entire account of their crimes.

While that romanticized version is great for shows that need to provide closure in under an hour, many fraud examiners know that real interviews are much more complicated. The Reid Technique, which focuses on lie detection and obtaining a confession, has been a popular interview strategy for some time for investigators. However, changing the goal for interviews from admission-seeking to information-seeking is becoming more popular — and some say it’s helping cut down on false or coerced confessions.

In his session at the 30th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference, Scott Porter, senior investigator for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario, explored a model of interviewing that is gaining favor among law enforcement and fraud examiners alike. The PEACE method was developed by a group of psychologists, lawyers and law enforcement experts in the U.K. in 1992. In more recent years, law enforcement entities in the U.S. and Canada have started adopting the PEACE model.

PEACE is an acronym that stands for:

Planning and preparation

Engage and explain

Account

Closure; and

Evaluation

Porter explained each portion of the PEACE model and showed attendees clips of real law enforcement interviews utilizing both the Reid Technique and the PEACE method to show the difference in philosophy between the two — as well as the risks in relying on the admission-seeking interview tactics employed in the Reid Technique.

Planning and preparation

“You don’t want to intimidate your suspects, you want to come prepared,” said Porter. “If you come prepared, you’ll earn respect.” Porter also stressed the importance of the physical set up of the interview. Ideally, you should try and make the interview feel as conversational as possible. If you sit across a table from your suspect, you’ve already created a barrier between you and the suspect.

You should also be familiar with every piece of evidence you already have. In the beginning of the interview with a suspect, never disclose all that you already know. Allow them to make statements you know are false so that they won’t be able to justify them later with plausible excuses.

As mentioned earlier, the “good cop, bad cop” model can be popular, but it’s often not advisable. “It’s easier to tell a secret to one person,” said Porter.

Engage and explain

Your demeanor plays a huge role in setting the tone for the interview. Instead of approaching the suspect with hostility, start off with a clear and neutral statement about why you are there and that you hope to gain more information about a situation. Building rapport, albeit however small, helps as well. Humans are naturally inclined to help others if asked. “It’s the principle of reciprocity,” said Porter. “If I say something to you, you say something to me. It’s no different for investigative interviews.”

Account

The account stage is to obtain the interviewee’s full account of the incident. Even if you know they’re lying as they tell you their version of events, you should not confront them. The account stage is most effective if you ask open questions, take a lot of time to listen and strive to approach issues with an empathetic nature. “A lot of the fraudsters you’re investigating are not necessarily bad,” said Porter.

Remember that this interview method isn’t looking for a confession, but just looking for more information. Keeping that goal in mind, you should allow the suspect to tell you their account of an event as fully as possible without any leading from the interviewer. This is the correct time, however, to introduce key evidence that you have that might contradict what they told you before. A good way to deliver the evidence you have that contradicts their story is to present it as an issue that they can help you understand. For example, “You said you were out to dinner with your wife on that Tuesday night, but I saw video of you on camera in the accounting department floor at 10 p.m. that same day. Can you help me understand why you were there?”

Closure and Evaluation

“Confirm all the details, and at the end of that, you evaluate,” said Porter. “Do I need to interview somebody else? Where do I go from here? What did I learn today?”

Overall, Porter stressed the importance of using evidence and empathy in the most effective interviews.