Tag Archive for: suspects

During a police academy class many years ago, an instructor stressed to the group of rookie officers the importance of paying close attention to detail. And, he told them that losing focus on matters at hand could result in overlooking evidence that’s vital to a case. Also important to note, he went on to say, was that not seeing the scene as a whole, including individual people within, such as potential suspects, could mean the difference between the officer living to see another day, or not.

This particular instructor was a firm believer in the use of visual aids, feeling that seeing is believing and that when people experience “hands-on” training they tend to remember those experiences.

Activating the senses by using “hands-on” sessions, such as fingerprinting, traffic stops, crime scene investigation, interview and interrogation, etc., definitely helps to imprint details into one’s memory.

Sure, you could attend the most fantastic lecture about blood spatter and spatter pattens, but the session, not matter how wonderful, would not equal seeing someone use a baseball bat to deliver a blow to someone’s head, an action that sends the red stuff and “matter” spurting and gushing toward a wall or other surface.

Sights, sounds, emotions, and odors associated with an experience sticks in the mind far longer than words spoken by even the best of experts.

For example, the video below from a bloodstain pattern workshop at the Writers’ Police Academy.


One day, the “hands-on” instructor was teaching about eyewitness statements and how reliable they could be, or not, when suddenly a side door opened and in came a line of a dozen people—actors from a college drama class. One held a knife in one hand, another a small handgun, and another carried a notebook. The others were empty-handed. Ten were dressed in typical everyday clothing. Two, a young man and a young woman, were dressed in swim suits. They were both fit. Extremely fit.

The actors walked straight through the front of the room, behind the instructor, and exited through a door on the opposite side of the classroom. The last person through closed the door behind him. The instructor then asked the cadets to write down a description of the people they’d just seen. The results were eye-opening.

Of the entire class only a couple could, with some degree of accuracy, describe four or five of the actors who’d walked past them. A few had a general idea of the peoples’ appearances. But most couldn’t pinpoint exact clothing types and/or hair colors or styles. Shoes? Nope. Gun? No! Knife? No!

But every single male rookie was able to describe, in detail, the woman and the swimsuit she wore. The males in the class were fairly accurate with their descriptions of the man who wore a swimsuit. The two females in the group provided extremely detailed descriptions of the swimsuited man’s arms, legs, and abdominal muscles. Freckles on his back? Check! Biceps? Triple check! They also were equally as accurate regarding the woman’s swimsuit.

The class was astonished at how poorly they’d done with the exercise. Suppose the person with gun had planned to shoot someone? There were many “what-ifs.” Yes, it was a lesson well-learned. Distraction can be a formidable enemy!

Next, during the instructor’s review of what had taken place, he began to question the class members about what they’d witnessed. While doing so he began suggesting things that they could’ve/might’ve seen. Such as one of the actors wearing a Rolex watch (neither actor wore a watch). He spoke about the actor who wore a pair of round eyeglasses (neither of the actors wore glasses of any type). And he discussed with them in detail the tattoo of a bulldog on one of the actor’s forearms. In reality, no tattoos were visible on either of the actors.

This conversation lasted for a several minutes, with the instructor “implanting” those ideas into the minds of the rookie officers. Then the instructor divided the class into smaller groups and then gave them an assignment. Each group was to write a police report that included detailed descriptions of the suspects/witnesses/actors. The results were stunning.

In the last exercise the groups offered far better descriptions of the actors. However, some included the tattoo or the Rolex watch, and/or the round eyeglasses, when in fact those items were absolutely not present.

Some of the rookies unknowingly allowed the instructor to implant the suggestions into their memories. Then, when the groups put their heads together, those who’d “seen” the tattoo, the watch, and/or the glasses, convinced enough of the others so that as a group they incorrectly presented at least one of the items as factual information that was included into their “official report.”

The first exercise was intended to raise officer awareness. They should always pay close attention to everything and everyone in their surrounding area, and as far beyond as possible. And, to not accept as absolute truth everything someone tells them. No two people see everything in the same light, and it’s awfully easy to allow a swimsuit to skew someone’s attention.

The last exercise was to show how easy it is for an officer to sway a witness or suspect’s “memory” during an interrogation. Therefore, law enforcement officers should be aware that their interviews must be based on evidence to avoid planting a false memory.

Remember, if you say something enough times, well, it becomes easy for someone to believe you.

By the way, I was the instructor who led those police academy classes. I was the instructor who led those police academy classes. I was the instructor who led those police academy classes. I was the instructor who led those police academy classes. I was the instructor who led those police academy classes. I was the instructor who led those police academy classes.


Imagine that you, the police detective, have just arrived at the scene of a murder. Patrol officers, after their hurried, blue-light-and-wailing-siren response, immediately secured the area and have ten potential suspects standing by to speak with you. And that’s where you shine. You’re well-known for your abilities as an interrogator. But how exactly do you begin an interview or interrogation? What are your first words? How do you know they’ll be the right words?

Well, we all know that no two people are exactly alike, right? Therefore, the ten suspects most likely have stark differences in personalities, backgrounds, physical characteristics, habits, hobbies, and likes and dislikes.

Elaborate Disguises Help to Avoid Arrest!

Image #1 – Sometimes criminals use elaborate disguises (above) to conceal their identities from authorities.


Image #2 – Suspect prior to donning the disguise. See how easily it is for bad guys to avoid detection! No one could possibly recognize this man as being the same guy in image #1.

Now, speaking of dislikes, you can safely assume that one of the more common hostilities will be an aversion of police officers. Yes, believe it or not, there are actually people out there who just don’t think too kindly of the men and women who wear badges and uniforms (What a surprise!). And, along with the basic hatred of the blue polyester clothing and shiny shoes comes a huge portion of distrust. I know … more surprising news, huh?

A good interviewer, though, finds ways around all that hatred and lack of trust. And, by possessing the remarkable ability to overcome those obstacles, professional interviewers/interrogators are nearly worth their weight in gold when it comes to crime-solving. How do they do it? Well, for starters, to be a really good interviewer one must be a fantastic listener. I’ll repeat that for the “motor-mouths” out there. A good interviewer must be a good listener. A Good Listener. Good listener. Listen. Shhhh ………… listen. Stop talking and what? Ah, there you go.

Good Actors!

A savvy interviewer is also a human chameleon, a person who’s able to change tactics and topics as quickly as the suspect formulates and weaves new lies and new alibis. Good interviewers are also good actors.

The successful interviewer must possess the ability to detect subtle changes in a suspect’s voice, mannerisms, and attitude. The investigator must also know to never judge a person and their capabilities by his/her appearance. After all, criminals come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life.

This also works in reverse. Investigators should never assume the worst about someone. Shabby clothing and a disheveled appearance are not positive indicators of criminal behavior. Like a suit and tie are not solid indicators of success. And these differences are part of why interviews and interrogation are often extremely important aspects of police investigations.

So let’s try a little exercise to see how you measure up as an interviewer. I think most of you will find that you’re already quite good at it, and you’ll soon see why.

The Crime

The body of 26-year-old movie starlet Iona Porche was found in a walk-in closet, not far from the bathtub in her bedroom suite. She was quite dead, and most definitely squeaky clean and embarrassingly nude. Well, except for the bath towel draped across her right leg.

Ms. Porche’s personal assistant told you that she’d been concerned about the assortment of “weirdos” hanging around her boss in recent weeks. The assistant also stated that Ms. Porche was extremely naive, and that perhaps some of the odd folks had been taking advantage of her boss’s generosity.

The really odd thing, she’d said, was that she’d overheard Ms. Porche involved in what sounded like a bitter argument with at least two males and one female (it was, after all, difficult to make out the voices with her ear tightly pressed to the wall). And, for the life of her, the assistant couldn’t understand why on earth Ms. Porche would allow those people in the room with her while she was taking a bath. “That sort of thing should be kept private,” were her exact words.

Iona Porche on the set of her latest hit movie, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Attend Psycho Serial Killer Camp for Dumb Teens Who Can’t Outrun Men With Chainsaws and Machetes”

After thanking the assistant for what was basically a gossip-fest, you begin the interviews of the ten suspects. You know it’s important to first establish that you’re in charge, but you’ve also got to make the suspect feel comfortable with you. In other words, you’ve got to be the boss while assuming the role of best friend, mother, father, brother, cousin, and even their drunk uncle, if that’s what it takes to solve the case.

Yes, good investigators must have the ability to “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Finding common ground can definitely help start the dialog flowing. In fact, it’s a must in most instances.

If the suspect is a green lizard-like man with horns, bumps under the skin where eyebrows should be, head to toe tattoos, and a forked tongue, then the good detective could possibly begin to build rapport by speaking about the silly Bugs Bunny tattoo he’d gotten on his right butt cheek after drinking one too many tequila shots the night of his twenty-first birthday. Doing so could be the ice-breaker needed to start the wagging of Mr. Lizard’s tongue.

Now, with a conversation underway, the detective can ease into the real purpose of the meeting by asking simple questions, such as, “How did you know the victim? Was she your friend? A lover? A co-worker?” The idea is to establish a connection between the victim and the suspect, if there is one.

Okay, you have the basic concept. So what could you say to this next suspect that could be the start of a trust-building conversation?

Common Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Did you offer him a soft drink and candy bar because his breath smelled like root beer and chocolate? Sure, that’s a start. And please do look for the little things, not just an overall survey of the person seated in the interview room. There always more than meets the eye. Always. Don’t allow your detective to become mired in tunnel vision..

What you probably wouldn’t want to say to the suspect in the above photo is that you own a plaid cover for your motor home that’s practically the same size as his shirt. Besides, common courtesy goes a long way in police work, and in life in general. A badge is not a license to be mean. If a man, or woman, is thirsty … let them drink. If you’ve held them for many hours without food or drink, send someone to the nearest fast food joint for a burger. Get them some water or a soft drink. Besides, a simple act of human kindness could go a long way to building a rapport. And, well, it’s the decent thing to do. I know, the guy just butchered his neighbor’s grandpa. Still …

A little Fib Here or There

How about this next suspect? How do you get inside his head? Hmm … maybe that was a poor choice of words, but you know what I mean.

A great ice-breaker could be telling him about your cousin Sammy “The Nose” who used to entertain the neighborhood kids by shoving sewer rats up his nostrils. And yes, it is okay to tell a fib at this stage of the game—“I used to have a pet snake who looked just like yours. I named him ‘Slim’ after my dad. His nickname was Slim Jim.”

All of this is solid and basic information for a police detective, but did you notice that it’s also a great tool that could help writers add depth and personality to their characters? Readers want a personal connection to the people who live inside your books. They want to know them. To know what makes them tick. Why do they do what they do? When do they do it? Is it a compulsion? Are they obsessed? And it is the writer’s job to deliver answers to those questions by allowing the reader to follow the characters as they travel their daily journeys throughout a normal and believable world.

Sit the Character Across From You

So, try it for yourself. Have your characters “sit” in a chair across from you and then find that one big thing that defines them—the forked tongue or the candy bar and root beer. Then continue to question your “suspect” until you “know” them as a person. You’ll soon find that with each question comes another layer, until soon you have a very real but fictional character sitting across from you. Of course, you may want to do this when no one else is at home to avoid being carted off by the net-wielding folks who run Nervous Hospitals.

For now, you can practice your interviewing skills with this next potential suspect. Oh, I almost forgot, always remember to watch the eyes. They tell 70% of the suspect’s story. 10% is up to you. The other 20% lives in the imaginations of your readers. It’s up to you, though, to set those minds in motion.