Reid Technique is a theoretical-psychological model which "conceives of an interrogation as the psychological undoing of deception", or more simply an "interrogation process that is designed to obtain an admission of guilt". The Reid Technique® is a registered trade mark of John E. Reid and Associates (JERA), which is the only organization that can teach the current version of the training program.
JERA was established in 1947 and claims that the technique was "originally developed" by their founder, a former Chicago police officer named John E. Reid, although it likely owed as to the work of Fred Edward Inbau, who co-authored the first edition of the "authoritative text" in 1962. Said text Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, is now in its fourth edition (2001) and was co-authored by Fred E. Inbau, John E. Reid, Joseph P. Buckley, and Brian C. Jayne. It has been described as the "most influential practical manual" on the subject.
Analysing Facts and Behavior
The Reid Technique is a three stage process comprising a Fact Analysis, a Behavior Analysis Interview, followed by the interrogation itself.
The first stage consists of a "fact analysis", that is the "collection and analysis of information relative to a crime scene, the victim and possible subjects", or to put it another way, what people would normally imagine that investigators do when faced with a crime, which is to look at the evidence and try and work out who might have been responsible.
The second stage of the process is to interview the suspects identified during the fact analysis. Here the interrogator is instructed to "remove the suspect from familiar surroundings and place him or her in a "small, barely furnished, soundproof room housed within the police station" and to remove all signs of "police paraphernalia from both the room and the interrogator's person". The intention here is to avoid reminding the potential suspect that they are actually being interviewed by a police investigator, and increase the likelihood of them making a 'damaging' admission during the course of the interview.
Known as the Behavior Analysis Interview, this stage of the process "consists of a fairly structured non-accusatory question and answer session with the suspect" and comprises three parts.
1. Non-Threatening Questions; which consists of background questions that establish personal information about the suspect
2. Investigative Questions; which are designed to give the suspect the opportunity to put forward their story
3. What are known as "behaviour-provoking questions", which are "designed to elicit different verbal and nonverbal responses from truthful and deceptive suspects" and often include a "bait question" which implies that the investigator is in possession of incriminating evidence that implicates the suspect in some misdeed.
The objective here is to establish a "level of rapport and trust with the suspect", and also to establish a "baseline reaction"; that is to note the suspect's normal behaviour during the non-threatening phase of questioning and then look for any deviation from the norm when asking the "behaviour-provoking questions". This is what is known as Behavior Symptom Analysis, in that the interrogator is seeking to identify "various verbal and non-verbal cues and behavioural attitudes that indicate that the suspect is lying". JERA asserts that investigators can be trained to judge truth and deception at an 85% level of accuracy.
The Nine Steps of Interrogation
Once the Behavior Analysis Interview has been completed and the investigator has concluded that the results indicate that the suspect was indeed the perpetrator of the crime under investigation, then the Reid Technique itself comes into play, which consists of nine steps.
Step 1 - Direct Positive Confrontation.
The interrogator begins by announcing that the results of the investigation clearly indicates that suspect is the person who committed the crime. It should be noted that this statement does not necessarily have to be true and frequently isn't, and it is common for the interrogator to adopt such tricks as to appear before the suspect bearing a large thick folder in order to deliberately give the impression that the folder contains the results of said investigation, or indeed to falsely claim that they are in possession of damning evidence that clearly points to the suspects guilt.
Step 2 - Theme Development
By theme development the Reid Technique means that the interrogator should develop a theory about why the suspect committed the crime.
Generally speaking those individuals who commit crimes seek to either rationalize their actions, that is describe their behaviour in such a way as to avoid any responsibility for the consequences of their behaviour, or to project the blame onto someone or something else. The interrogator's task is therefore to develop a theme that employs rationalization and/or projection and so describe an alternative version of events whereby the suspect is offered a moral excuse for having committed the offense, and through a process of trial and error (if nothing else) establish which theme has the most appeal for the suspect.
Step 3 - Handling Denials and Step 4 - Overcoming Objections
Suspects typically deny that they committed the crime and offer objections as to why they could not have carried out the crime. The interrogator is instructed to deny the suspect the opportunity to deny their crime, but to indulge any objections that are raised and then overcome them by reversing the significance of the objection, and pointing out the drawbacks if the objection was untruthful.
Step 5 - Procurement and Retention of a Suspect's Attention
It is at this point that the suspect will seek to "psychologically withdraw from the interrogation" and so the task of the interrogator is to prevent this from happening. They are therefore instructed to move their chair closer to the suspect, establish and maintain eye contact, etc.
Step 6 - Handling the Suspect's Passive Mood
The interrogator now revisits stage 2 where they sought to identify possible reasons why the suspect committed the crime. Having therefore identified the 'moral excuse' that most appealed to the suspect, the interrogator is instructed to maintain contact with the suspect whilst "continuing to display understanding and sympathy" as they urge and advise them to tell the truth.
Step 7 - Presenting the Alternative Question
The alternative question is a question that presents two or more possible answers but presupposes that only one is true. For example, the interrogator will ask the suspect whether the crime was planned or committed at the spur of the moment. Selecting either of the choices will entail an acceptance of guilt, but agreeing that the offence was unplanned somehow implies a lesser degree of moral culpability. The real point however is that the question assumes that the suspect is guilty and therefore that the negative consequences are inevitable, but that by confessing to the crime, these negative consequences can in some way be alleviated.
Although interrogators are instructed to ensure that their alternative question should make no reference to any legal charges, contain any threats, or make promises of leniency, this is simply in order to ensure that the suspect cannot at any future date claim that the confession was in anyway induced or coerced. Nevertheless the point is to "lead a suspect to infer that he or she will be treated with leniency", and to persuade them that confession is the most effective means of escaping from their current dilemma.
Step 8 - Having the Suspect Orally Relate Various Details of the Offense
Having now obtained an admission of guilt the interrogator's task is now to persuade the suspect to relate the details of his involvement in the crime.
Step 9 - Converting an Oral Confession into a Written Confession
Naturally once Step 8 is completed, the task is to get the confession down on paper and obtain the suspect's signature on the document. Case closed.
These nine steps of interrogation are based around what is known as the Maximize-Minimimize Strategy; where maximization consists of exaggerating the strength of evidence against the suspect, and minimization consists of downplaying the consequences of guilt
Criticisms of the Reid Technique
Critics of the Reid Technique claim that it is a "psychologically coercive" interrogation technique that yields a far greater proportion of false confessions than is acceptable, and argue that the methods which make guilty persons more likely to confess tend to have the unfortunate consequence of also persuading innocent and compromised clients to confess to crimes that they did not in fact commit. As far as the United States is concerned availability of DNA evidence produced a long list of cases where suspects had 'confessed' after being persuaded to do so by Reid trained interrogators, but were subsequently shown to have had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime.
JERA's response is that such criticisms are better aimed at actual law enforcement practice and misuse of the technique, and insist that the Reid Technique is only supposed to be used to question those suspects where the authorities are in possession of evidence that demonstrates their likely guilt. Others have noted that before the Reid Technique came into fashion, the typical law enforcement technique for extracting confessions from a suspect generally involved threats of, and actual acts of violence directed against suspects. The Reid Technique was therefore seen as a more liberal and humane alternative to the traditional third degree.
However the more telling criticism of the Reid Technique centres on the claim that trained interrogators can achieve an accuracy level of 85% in determining whether a suspect is lying or not. It turns out that the evidence cited in support of this claim is a study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences (Volume 39, Issue 3, May 1994), Horvath F, Jayne B, Buckley J, Differentiation of Truthful and Deceptive Criminal Suspects in Behavior Analysis Interviews. Since however, the authors were employed by JERA, this study is not exactly an independent validation of the technique.
In fact it has to be said that the general consensus within academic circles regarding the claim that someone can judge whether someone is telling the truth to an 85% level of accuracy, is that such a claim is complete and utter nonsense, given that large numbers of psychological studies have been conducted over the year across the globe which have consistently shown that no one is capable of achieving anything like that level of accuracy. Indeed some researchers in the field claim that training in the Reid Technique actually results in investigators making less accurate judgements about suspects, since all it does is to make investigators more confident about their judgements and more likely to assume guilt. It has therefore been concluded that "special training in deception detection may lead investigators to make pre-judgments of guilt, with high confidence, that are biased and frequently in error".
Indeed one Saul Kassin, a Professor of Psychology at Williams College is quite categorical that "there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that professionals, trained or not, can distinguish truths and lies simply by observing a person’s interview behaviour". Therefore contrary to what the proponents of the Reid Technique contend and to what police officers frequently believe of themselves, they are no better than anyone else at detecting deception, which is to say they perform at no better than chance level.
Practical Steps in Resisting the Reid Technique
Anyone with a more than passing similarity with American (or indeed British) crime drama will find that much of the Reid Technique sounds strangely familiar. Indeed there have been countless episodes of formula driven crime drama where the narrative eventually reaches that point at which the Man in Charge announces that there is insufficient evidence to hold the prime suspect in custody, and the Hero Cop is dispatched to the interview room where they succeed, by their adept psychological manipulation of said suspect, to induce them to confess to the crime. (Or if it happens to be CSI: Miami, simply fess up without prompting when faced with some highly dubious piece of forensic evidence under the wide-eyed stare of Calleigh Duquesne.)
The reason why such scenarios are so commonplace is simply because the Reid Technique is the most prevalent method of police interrogation training in the United States and therefore the one most likely to be encountered in real life. And whilst there are other techniques is use such as the Kinesic Interrogation Technique, and the Central Intelligence Agency has its own KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, they all tend to focus on the value of rapport-building and use the maximisation-minimization strategy to induce confessions.
Of course, in many jurisdictions the easiest way to beat the Reid, or indeed any other interrogation technique, is to insist on one's right to have an attorney present during questioning, as even the most dim-witted defence lawyer will be able to derail the process. It is worth noting that, as far as the United States is concerned, research indicates that suspects are four times more likely to confess where they have no legal representative present. That said, the Reid Technique offers some useful clues as to how a 'suspect' might 'beat the rap' and reduce the probability of confessing even further.
According to Behavior Symptom Analysis a "Truthful Suspect" will be "spontaneous, sincere, helpful, concerned, and cooperative" whilst a "Deceptive Suspect" will appear "guarded, insincere, unhelpful, unconcerned, and uncooperative". Clearly therefore the more effort a potential suspect makes to appear helpful, sincere and cooperative etc, the more likely they are to be regarded as truthful rather than deceptive by an interrogator. Be prepared for the 'behavior-provoking' phase when the interrogator will begin to ask questions about how you feel toward the person who committed the crime, or even to pose hypothetical questions about the crime and why it was committed. Resist the temptation to engage in a conversation with the interrogator regarding such matters, and insist that you have no knowledge of such things. If the interrogator persists, persist with your ignorance. And if at any point they suggest in any way that you might have committed the offence, simply ignore the suggestion. Since as an upstanding citizen, the idea that anyone might suspect you of a crime is of course simply unthinkable.
You should, of course, never believe what the interrogator tells you about the evidence that is in their possession. The extent to which they can lie varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in the United States they are permitted to even go so far as to pretend that they are in possession of evidence that does not even exist.
As far as the Nine Steps themselves are concerned, the Reid Technique asserts that it is "very rare for an innocent suspect" to move beyond the state of denying any involvement with the crime. Interrogators are also taught that deceptive suspects introduce their denials with permission phrases such as "Can I say one thing?" or "Just let me explain..." whilst truthful suspects usually do not ask for permission. Take this point on board and consistently insist on your innocence. Restrict you denials to such simple statements as "I did not kill my partner", and repeat ad nauseam until the interrogator finally gets the message.
If the interview ever reaches the point where the interrogator suggests that a confession will indeed improve your prospects of enjoying heaven, state that fail to see the advantage in confessing to a crime that you did not commit, and repeat as necessary. Of course, if you have taken the advice to ensure that your legal representative is present, they will very likely have already announced that "We're done here" and you will be in the coffee shop across the road enjoying a latte and a Danish.
It is worth noting however, that whilst investigative authorities in the United States view a confession as the natural outcome of a suspect interrogation this is not the case in other jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom for example, most police authorities use what is known as the PEACE model which is based on a technique known as Conversation Management, were the goal is to reveal anomalies and inconsistencies in suspect statements and develop these as evidence of guilt. Which is not to say that the British police do not welcome a confession, but rather that they see the main objective of the interrogation process as being one of producing evidence that the suspect is lying.
- Brian C. Jayne, Joseph P. Buckley, The Reid Technique of Interrogation
- The Reid Technique: Chapter One from The Investigator Anthology which provides an overview of The Reid Technique
- Ariel Neuman and Daniel Salinas-Serrano,
Custodial Interrogations: What We Know, What We Do, and What We Can Learn from Law Enforcement Experiences
from Educing Information: Interrogation: Science and Art — Foundations for the Future,
National Defense Intelligence College, Washington, DC, December 2006
- Saul M. Kassin, A critical appraisal of modern police interrogations