Benefits of Complimenting a Suspect During the Interrogation

Written By: David M. Buckley *
Jan 15, 2023

There are many elements that lead to a successful interrogation. One such element is the level of rapport and trust the investigator can develop with the suspect. One way to develop rapport is to offer a compliment to the suspect about some characteristic that the investigator has identified as one that is important to the suspect. John Reid would often remind us that no matter how heinous the crime a suspect has committed, there is good in everyone.

This may be hard to see in some suspects more so than others. Jerry Sandusky, for example, who spent many years as a coach for Penn State University was convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse on Jun 22, 2012. He was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 60 years. Prior to his arrest, if you had talked to the players who he coached, they would have probably said very positive things about a man we view today as pure evil. They only knew his positive attributes such as being a good coach, fair, supportive, and encouraging etc. Former players did not know of his secret life as child molester.

As investigators, we first know the person as a criminal suspect and do not necessarily know the suspect outside of their criminal behavior or whether they have any redeeming qualities. We must remember there are others in the suspect’s life that are not aware of the criminal side of the suspect and only see their positive characteristics. So we, as investigators, must try to identify some positive characteristics in the suspect, and by complimenting the suspect we may be able to build rapport and establish a level of trust.

Investigators should attempt to persuade the suspect that we are willing to look at and consider the positive qualities in their life. Some suspects may have a developed sense to know when an investigator is less than sincere so it is important that investigators use information that has been developed during the investigation which will enhance the credibility of the investigator’s statements. For example, consider one of the cases we worked involving a 10-year bank employee who was involved in two fraudulent wire transfers totaling $10,000 dollars stolen from two of the bank’s customer’s accounts. Here is a brief synopsis of the case. The names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Angela had been employed at The State Bank for ten years and would drop her two children off at her sister-in-law’s house each morning on her way to work. Her sister-in-law, Mary, watched her children while Angela was at work. Mary had a live-in boyfriend, Andy, who suggested the following to Angela.

“Angela, since you work in customer service and have access to all the customer accounts, I have an idea how we can both make a little money. If you give me some of the personal information from a couple of your customers’ accounts, I could call the bank, request a wire transfer of funds from the accounts to be transferred to another branch and I will be the person designated to pick up the money. I’ll pick up the money and split it with you 50 -50.”

After an extensive conversation, Angela finally agreed to do this. Andy successfully made two fraudulent wire transfer requests stealing a total of $10,000 dollars from two customer accounts, half of which he gave to Angela.

During the interrogation of Angela, the investigator successfully developed rapport and trust with Angela and ultimately convinced her to acknowledge her guilt. The following dialog demonstrates how the investigator brought up her desirable traits in the suspect’s life to develop rapport and trust and ultimately make a connection with Angela.

“Angela, before we conduct interviews in cases like this, we ask the bank to pull the personnel file on the people we are going to talk to. We then sit down with the bank officials and discuss the employee’s tenure with the bank. Angela when we did this regarding your employment, the bank had nothing but positive things to say about you. They said you’re a very dependable employee and always receive the highest evaluations from customers. Angela, the fact that you work in customer service tells me that your very knowledgeable about banking and have the type of personality that can get along with a variety of people and the patience to solve their problems.

Angela, I just met you today and during our interview I could tell that you are a very intelligent individual and that you like your job here at the bank. You also told me you have a few children and have been married for 15 years. Angela, I’m sure you’re you're proud of your family, proud of your job and proud of your position in life. I also know you’re a law-abiding citizen Angela, because you are not working at a bank unless you have a clean record. You have accomplished a lot.

I look at someone like you Angela, and wonder, why would someone like you do something like this? It is so out of character that it must have been someone else’s idea. In this case I think Andy is the one who instigated this whole thing. However, I can’t believe that unless that comes from you Angela. Some of the other investigators are suggesting that you are the one who set this up and used Andy as the fall guy. I don’t agree but I can understand how they may think that. Consider how they are looking at this Angela. Andy took the risk to call the bank and request the wire transfer. Andy also took the risk to go into the branch, show identification, and pick up the money. Some of the other investigators are suggesting that you used Andy to do the dirty work, took no risk, and collected half of the money. I think they are looking at it that way because they don’t know you the way I do. I think this was Andy’s idea and he talked you into it.

If you say nothing at all Angela, people will think the worst about you. They are wondering, who is the real Angela.”

This type of flattery can gain a level of trust from the suspect. By suggesting that other investigators may think the worst of her because they don’t know the ‘real Angela’ will cause her to gravitate towards the investigator who sees her positive qualities.

In other scenarios, for example, when you have a street sharp suspect or repeat offender, it may be more of a challenge to identify positive attributes. However, investigators must remember, no matter how heinous the crime or how we may perceive the suspect, the suspect probably does not perceive themselves the same way. They have found a way to justify the crime and do not think of themselves as a ‘bad’ person. During an interrogation, some street sharp suspects might question why the investigator is spending so much time talking to them. The attitude of some repeat offenders may be,

“If you have it (evidence) why don’t you just go with it. Why am I so special that you’re spending all this time and effort talking to me? I don’t think you have the evidence and I think you’re talking to me to make your case.”

In these circumstances the investigator can again use compliments or flattery to overcome that distrustful attitude of the suspect as the following dialog illustrates.

“Danny, I don’t give everyone this type of opportunity that I’m giving to you. There are plenty of guys I don’t give the ‘time of day’ to. I’ve had guys who promised to come in to talk to me and then don't show up. I wait around for an hour for them and when I finally get them on the phone, they say they forgot. They do this to me a few times, making me wait around, disrespecting me and my time. When I finally pick the guy up, everything’s a fight. They don’t want to answer any questions, and everything turns into an argument. Guys like that, Danny, I don’t give them ‘the time of day’. I just come in and say, “Our investigation shows you did this do you have anything to say about it?” they say “No.” so I walk out. Why should I extend myself to a guy who has been so disrespectful to me.

“But you have not been that way. You have been very cooperative; you answered my questions and I think you want to cooperate and get this thing straightened out. I know you got out of the pen 6 months ago and you’re trying to do all the things your supposed to. You have a job, you’re living with your family, raising your children. I’ve talked to a few people on the street and the word on you is that you’re tough but fair. People say that as long as people shoot straight with you, you’re a standup guy, you’re not the type to double-cross anyone. You’re a man of your word. That’s why I’m trying to be fair with you. I think if I’m straight with you you’ll be straight with me. I’m not going to sit here and play any games with you, I’m extending this opportunity to you because of the type of person you are. I don’t extend this opportunity to just anyone.”

While sometimes it can be hard to find something positive about some of the suspects we deal with, if we can do that it is an effective way to gain a level of trust and rapport which ultimately may lead to them to tell the truth about what they did.

* Dave Buckley, Senior Instructor with John E. Reid, and Associates and author of the book ‘How to Identify, Interview and Motivate Child Abuse Offenders to tell the truth’.

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