Briefing paper

The cognitive interview in policing: negotiating control

30 Jun 2012

This paper highlights the benefits of employing cognitive interviewing techniques with witnesses and police officers following a traumatic incident.

The authors note these techniques can facilitate more detailed memory recall by a witness (civilian or police officer) on the context, chronology and individual perceptions prior to, during, and after a critical incident, potentially significant details that can assist police investigators. In contrast, the controlled interview techniques currently used by police may potentially exclude important, contextual details. The cognitive interview process outlined in this paper is soon to be incorporated into police training in New Zealand and Australia (Queensland and Western Australia).

When police investigators ask questions of citizens or fellow officers, they are attempting to get honest, complete and worthwhile information. The data they gather are used to reconstruct a scene, situation or encounter and can form a brief of evidence if the matter goes to court. These data are used to initiate a criminal and/or administrative investigation, to form the official record of the event and help to determine the truth of the matter under investigation. A critical goal is to get each witness to provide accurate information, but there is no standard method or “best practice” to achieve this outcome. There are many ways investigators elicit information and, often, it is a “gut feeling” rather than a proven strategy based on evidence that is used to interact with individuals. The purpose of this Briefing Paper is to discuss the cognitive interview technique as a way to conduct interviews and allow individuals to provide proper data to the investigator. First, the foundation of the cognitive interview is summarized, and then examples are provided of how this technique can be used in policing.

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