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It is important that we approach every investigation untainted by our own thoughts, feelings, belief systems, bias, or prejudice. From the start to the finish of an investigation, the agent must be in receive mode only. This means, you will ABC:

  • Assume
  • Believe
  • Challenge

Information both seen and heard may be exactly as you see and hear it. Often however, that which is seen and heard requires further interrogation. How do you know it to be true? Have you corroborated it? A successful investigation must have an effective management system:

  • Strategy for collecting the information you require. 
  • Collecting the information.
  • Corroborating the information.
  • Validating and analysing the data. 
  • Reporting on the information.

Often, the investigation may lead to the requirement of interviewing both overtly and covertly of individuals (face-to-face, through email, social media, chat rooms, skype/teams or even by phone). It is good practice to develop a strategy of interviewing. What information does the investigator require? How will you elicit it? Interviewing does not always serve in the form of questioning – a skilled agent can simply engage in friendly conversation to elicit information they require by simply incorporating questions strategic questions. As we have previously discussed, your type of investigative technique will depend on what you are investigating or researching. An investigator may use simple techniques including open or closed questions, direct and indirect methods of questioning.

Cognitive interviewing 

Cognitive interviewing is effective – particularly when assisting victims and witnesses in recalling information. It is an effective methodology when assisting suspects to take responsibility and accountability sensitivity. Cognitive interviewing provides a solid base for investigators from which to build essential skills on interviewing techniques suitable for interviewing most individuals. Cognitive interviewing assists with recall of events using skilled questioning, open questions, statements that will ease the individual to reduce stress and anxiety and therefore provide a foundation from which the interviewee is responsive. Geiselman et al. (1985) developed the Cognitive Interview (CI) as an alternative to the Standard Interview – considering psychological findings about cue-dependent forgetting and which has four stages designed to stimulate as many cues as possible to maximise different retrieval routes. The four stages of cognitive interviewing:

Stage 1: Reinstate the context.

Stage 2: Recall events in reverse order.

Stage 3: Report everything they can remember.

Stage 4: Describe events from someone else’s point of view.

Skilled interview techniques require an open mind, a blank slate from which to work from, where the facts, data and evidence begin to fit into place.

Case studies

A female SIO is called to a home where an alleged domestic violence incident is/had taken place. When the female detective arrives at the scene, there is a female subject crying and holding her bruised arm. The female states to the SIO that her partner attacks her regularly, that he hit her arm with a shoe and that she is afraid of him. The SIO approaches the male subject who appears to be disconnected and anxious. He has scratches on his face, bruising to his throat, and a bleeding lip. The detective asks the male subject what had happened. He insists he hit the female subject with a shoe in self-defense. The SIO made the decision to immediately arrest and detain the male. She ignores the bruising to the male subjects’ throat and bruised bleeding lip and focuses on the scratches on his face which she interprets as self-defense committed by the female.

What was the error in judgment by the SIO?

  • She dismissed with all prejudice what the male subject had told her (he may have been lying but so too may have the female subject).
  • She should have arranged further questioning for both parties at the station – rather than arrest and detain the male subject as the perpetrator.
  • The SIO submitted her report – disclosing only the facial scratches on the male’s face but did not disclose the bruised and bleeding lip or the marks around his throat.

The SIO assumed – based on gender (or her own experiences with men, and so sympathizes with the female) that the male subject was the guilty party. She made a serious error in judgment – overstepping her professional remit by leaving out valuable information that could have helped the male victim in his defense. The detective based her investigation on what she thinks and feels, what she believes, what she may have experienced and from stereotyping of male/female anecdotes.

In fact, the male subject had been a victim of the female subject for three years suffering domestic violence, both physical and psychological. The female subject over two years had created a negative narrative of the male subject through her interactions with others including law enforcement.

confirmation bias.

People tend to faviour information that confirms or strengthens their beliefs or values and it can be difficult to dislodge their mindset once affirmed. Similarly, cognitive bias is a systematic thought process caused by the tendency of the human brain to simplify information processing through a filter of personal experience and preferences.

  • Biased search for information.
  • Biased interpretation of information and events.
  • Biased memory recall of information and events.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, faviour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s own prior beliefs and/or values. Examples:

1: A recruiter is bias TOWARDS women, they will hire female candidates over male candidates – regardless of whether the male candidate is better qualified or not.

2: A person believes that eating eggs every day is good for them. They will search for information validating their belief about the fact that eating eggs every day is good for them – whilst ignoring the data that would contradict their belief system (information and facts that cite that eating eggs every day for some people may be harmful).

We process information daily in vast quantities. We interpret information in different ways and use filters to navigate and output this information. Social cognition concerns the cognitive processes related to our perception of understanding such as the way we use and perceive auditory, linguistic, visual, and physical cues that communicate interpersonal information between people in social groups and situations (Frith, 2008).

The Schema Theory (also known as cognitive frameworks) explains how our minds organise and categorise information, knowledge, and memories and how this process influences our cognition and behaviour. Think of the mind as a computer. The mind categorises information into filing sections – a folder (Schema) on your computer. Within each filing system (the folder), are groups of knowledge, information, and memories which we have formed throughout our lives. Schema’s dictate how we may react, what we think and feel and how we might behave in each situation.

When we visit a friend, we may behave differently compared to when we visit a loved one. Friend schema and loved one schema dictate how we interact and behave based on knowledge, memory, and experience. When we see a wasp, we associate it with the possibility that it may attack and sting – so reactions and decisions are made to mitigate the ‘threat’. When we see a butterfly, we associate it with beauty and pollination so actions, thoughts, and feelings about the butterfly invoke different feelings to the wasp (wasp schema and butterfly schema).

Our schemas affect the way with which we view the world and make judgements on situations and people. A person with several tattoo’s may be viewed as hostile and aggressive, based simply on schema built up from watching TV depicting people with tattoo’s as aggressive and hostile, as well as any encounter’s which may have been negative with a person who has tattoos. Our social cognition affects our decision- making based on these perceptions. Everyone will perceive others, social situations, experiences, and knowledge differently, including those situations that are the same.

It is not just through our own experiences, visual or auditory perceptions that shape the way we may view people and situations. People also ‘adopt’ these impressions, judgments and stereotyping of others and situations based on other people’s perceptions, narrative, and belief systems. Narrative and perception can become contagious when a group of people collectively ascribe to a particular point of view or judgment based primarily on the volume of others (or the most dominant voice within the group) who hold the same views (group-think and the band-wagon-effect will feature in another post).

Stereotyping in the courtroom

“What is beautiful is good” (Dion, 1972). A study conducted in the 1970’s found that judges tended to deliver a more lenient sentence towards women – particularly women considered to be attractive or those women whose characteristics reminded judges of their mothers, sisters, and other female entities within their inner circle. “Let your attitude, gesture and face foretell what you would make felt” (Jolly, 2000). Non-verbal communication (NVC) can be defined as communication between people that is non- verbal. Under the many categories of NVC’s (including physical and symbolic NVC’s) –judges and jurors may consciously and unconsciously judge people based on their body posture, facial expressions, the way they are dressed, their financial status, their social or corporate influence, age, and even by their religion, ethnicity, gender and whether individuals identify as heterosexual or LGBTQ+.

Similarly, individuals may be judged on the way they speak – slow, fast, whether they have a lisp, and whether they do or do not make eye contact. Each juror and judge will perceive the same behaviour differently. The negative consequences of misidentification of verbal and NVC’s in the court room is that judges and jurors may misinterpret them, which will affect their decision-making through their own preconceived perceptions, prejudice, stereotyping, and bias – as previously discussed. People from the black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community make up just 14% of the UK population, yet BAME make up 25% of the UK’s prison population.

People suffering mental health problems, learning disabilities and difficulties, and those who are neuro-distinct may not be adequately represented in court. Verbal and non-verbal cues compared to neuro-typical individuals (and even then, these individuals differ in reasoning for their behaviour based on internal and external factors), will not mean the same thing. An example would be that some people judge perceived evasive and anxious behaviour by neuro-typical individuals as those individuals having something to hide/are guilty of an alleged crime. A neuro-distinct individual (or people suffering mental health disorders) may display the same behaviour but it may represent confusion, fear, and anxiety. A woman charged with criminal damage may appear aggressive in the courtroom and display angry facial expressions along with hostile verbal outbursts. This behaviour may be perceived as the woman having a violent criminal disposition. However, the woman may suffer with an undiagnosed mental health disorder.

Confirmation bias leads jurors to favour for or against prosecution of an individual and so they may distort/dismiss evidence and version of events to favour their preference of outcome. Jurors may similarly subjectively make decisions based on inaccurate witness testimony. Moreover, jurors may base too much reliance on certain forensic and professional testimony without interrogation about whether the evidence and testimony are accurate and are being presented objectively. Bias and stereotyping in the courtroom have led to many miscarriages of justice both past and present, the subject of which will be discussed in future posts.

The importance of entering an investigation with zero preconceived ideas with a completely objective receiving mindset, will set your investigation on the right track.

Investigations: The way we think, speak and judge