Importance of privacy: Any person who is motivated to withhold information should be interviewed in private. This group includes job applicants, victims, witnesses and employees suspected of wrongdoing. Privacy is necessary because people almost always share sensitive information with only one person at a time. Therefore, the most critical aspect to assure a sense of privacy is to conduct interviews one on one. That is, there should only be two people in the room, the interviewer and the subject. If this is not feasible, the interviewer should sit about 4* - 5 feet in front of the subject, while the 2nd party (another investigator) should sit off to the side.
It is important that the interview room have a door that can be closed so the subject will not be concerned about someone outside of the room overhearing what is being discussed. For much the same reason, it is important to keep electronic recording devices, such as a tape recorder or camcorder, inconspicuous. This is not to suggest that all electronic recording must be surreptitious. In fact, many states require two-party consent to electronically record a conversation. However, it is a pivotal misunderstanding of human behavior to believe that a subject would candidly make admissions against self interest while staring at a camcorder or looking down at a tape recorder placed in plain view on top of a desk. Therefore, a camcorder should be placed off to the side of the subject and a tape recorder on the floor or other place which is concealed from the subject's constant view.
Distractions: Controlling auditory distractions is more important than visual distractions within a temporary interview room. If a subject can hear outside voices behind a closed door, he or she may be concerned that those on the outside may also be able to overhear the interview. Even in the most basic interview environment, internal auditory distractions can easily be eliminated. This simply requires disconnecting a desk phone, turning off a beeper or cell phone.
Size considerations: If an interview room is too small (6' x 7') it is likely to cause unwanted apprehension, and perhaps even a feeling of claustrophobia. This is undesirable both from a psychological and legal perspective (coercion). Conversely, interviewing in a room that is too large (20' x 15') creates a different problem in that it is difficult to achieve a one-on-one relationship with another person in such a vast space. This can usually be remedied by arranging the furniture in such a way that the interview takes place in a corner of the room, creating the psychological impression of an 10' x 10' space. Generally, this arrangement is achieved by putting the interviewer's chair near a back wall and the subject's chair about 5 feet in front of the subject's chair. A conference table or desk positioned off to the subject's side completes the effect.
Eliminate barriers: A barrier is any physical object placed between the interviewer and subject. In many office environments this will represent a desk or table. Barriers are undesirable for a number of reasons, but primarily they offer a psychological shield behind which a deceptive subject will hide. A person is much more likely to tell the truth if their entire body is exposed to the interviewer. Consequently, the room should be arranged in such a way that the chairs in which the interviewer and subject sit are placed to the side of, or away from a desk or table. For example, if a vice-president of operations calls an employee into his office to be interviewed concerning possible fraudulent activities, two chairs could be positioned facing each other to the side or in front of the vice-president's desk. The vice-president can politely ask the employee to have a seat in one of the chairs while he sits directly in front of the employee in the other. During an interview, the distance between the chairs should be about 4 * - 5 feet apart. This represents a natural distance in which two people feel comfortable interacting. If the distance is shortened, say to three feet, the interviewer will be perceived as authoritative and condescending. This is obviously not desirable if the goal is to allow the person being interviewed to feel comfortable telling the truth.
Location: Suppose an employee embezzled $15,000 and could choose between confessing at her place of employment or in our office located in down-town Chicago? Ten out of ten guilty suspects, if given the choice, would choose to confess in our office. The reason is simple. No employee wants to confess guilt only to leave the room to face co-workers and supervisors who are undoubtedly aware of the investigation and who will express resentment for the problems the employee has caused. This common sense lesson teaches the following important rule: interview or interrogate suspected employees away from co-workers and supervisors. A guideline we follow is that if the guilty employee cannot leave the interview room without being seen by co-workers, it is not a proper room in which to conduct the interview. Frequently, under this circumstance, we will arrange to conduct interviews/interrogations at a nearby hotel. Most hotels have small meeting rooms which afford privacy and the furniture can be arranged in such a way as to create a desirable interviewing environment.
Conclusion: Many of the investigations conducted by staff members of John E. Reid and Associates occur outside of our office. Furthermore, we are often successful in resolving those cases with a confession. A contributing factor to our success is establishing the correct environment in which to conduct the interview/interrogation. Once we visit a client's location we survey the premises looking for a suitable room in which to conduct the interviews. If one is found we will modify that room to suit our needs. If none is found, rather than hoping that we might be successful in solving the case with the interviewing space that is available, we will suggest that the interviews be conduced at a nearby hotel. By conducting interviews/interrogations within a hotel conference or meeting room, our staff has obtained countless confessions that otherwise may never have been obtained on the client's premises.