In my previous post, I included a link to Psychology Today’s Shadow Boxing blog, which carried a brief interview in which I was critical of the Reid Technique, the most commonly used technique for interrogation taught in American police training. This prompted an email to me from Joseph Buckley, the President of John T. Reid and Associates, Inc., in which he defended the Reid Technique. I advised Mr. Buckley that I could not include his entire missive, but would be glad to include some of it. He said, in part:
False confessions are not caused by the application of the Reid Technique, they are usually caused by interrogators engaging in improper behavior that is outside of the parameters of the Reid Technique – using improper interrogation procedures – engaging in behavior that the courts have ruled to be objectionable, such as threatening inevitable consequences; making a promise of leniency in return for the confession; denying a subject their rights; conducting an excessively long interrogation; etc.
Mr. Harris suggested that the goal of the Reid Technique is to get a confession – that is not correct; it is to learn the truth.
On page 4 of our training manual and page 5 of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions (5th ed, 2011) we state that the objective of an interrogation is to elicit the truth from a subject, not a confession.
In a subsequent email, Mr. Buckley suggested this link to his web page, particularly the entry for March 11, 2012.
For my part, I stand by what I told Shadow Boxing, and I stand by everything I said about the Reid Technique in my book, Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science.
For starters, I did say that the goal of the Reid Technique is to get a confession. Mr. Buckley says that isn’t true. What he doesn’t say is that until 2011’s fifth edition — through all of the previous editions — what the book said was “an interrogation is conducted only when the investigator is reasonably certain of the suspect’s guilt” (or words to that effect). This statement was changed after many commentators quoted it as perfectly descriptive of the Reid Technique’s reliance on an underlying assumption of guilt for all interrogations. But even after changing the statement, the presumption of guilt underlying the whole process did not change.
But to me, what this comes down to is which side, Mr. Buckley or his many critics, have the science behind them. On this dimension, it’s not a close call. Rather than pull all of this out here, take a look at an excellent article by Keith Findley and Michael Scott, “The Multiple Dimensions of Tunnel Vision in Criminal Cases.” (The link is to the abstract; you can then download the article for free.) Go right to page 333–340, where the authors lay out the case against the Reid Technique and (unlike Reid’s own materials) support their arguments with a vast amount of research literature. Here’s a small slice (with footnotes omitted):
[T]he process of assessing an interview is likely to produce misjudgments about the suspect’s veracity and guilt. Police are trained to look for signs of deceit in the interview process to help them determine whether to shift from an interview to an interrogation. Police also use their interpretations of guilty responses to help them shape the remainder of their interrogation, and the content of their testimony at trial. Yet, considerable research indicates that people are poor intuitive judges of truth and deception. In clinical studies, people consistently perform at only slightly better than chance levels (with typical accuracy rates of about 45 to 60 percent, when chance is 50 percent) at distinguishing lies from truth…Indeed, most studies indicate that trained detectives and others with relevant on-the-job experience “perform only slightly better than chance, if at all,” and do not perform more reliably than untrained individuals…Additionally, the signs that police officers are trained to believe indicate lies are not empirically related to lie detection…Research confirms that most police officers rely on such indicators. But research also convincingly shows that such cues are not indicative of fabrication, and can actually reduce accuracy.
Read and evaluate. You decide.