The Fundamental Foundation of THE REID TECHNIQUE OF INTERROGATION®: Empathy and Understanding

Written By: Reid
Sep 01, 2017

The Reid Technique consists of a three-phase process beginning with Fact Analysis, followed by the Behavior Analysis Interview (which is a non-accusatory interview designed to develop investigative and behavioral information), followed by, when appropriate, the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation. While all subjects in an investigation are interviewed, very few are interrogated.

Once it is determined by the investigative information that the subject is involved in the commission of the crime, the interrogation begins by advising the subject of the investigation results. The investigator then begins to develop what we refer to as a theme in which we offer the subject a “moral excuse” for the suspect’s commission of the offense or minimizing the moral implications of the conduct.

The fundamental foundation of the interrogation process in the Reid Technique is empathy and understanding. It is imperative that during the interrogation the subject is treated with dignity and respect, and the core of the theme presentation should focus on the concept that the investigator understands that good people can make mistakes in judgment when facing difficult circumstances.

For the most part interrogation themes reinforce the guilty suspect’s own rationalizations and justifications for committing the crime. As part of an offender’s decision to commit a crime or, in the case of a spontaneous crime, following it, it is natural for him to justify or rationalize the crime in some manner. The average person can relate to this instinctive mechanism when thinking back over the last time he exceeded the speed limit while driving. The illegal behavior may be explained away by believing that speed limit signs were poorly posted or that a perceived emergency existed where the driver could not afford to be late to a scheduled appointment; justification may be realized in the fact that the driver was not going that much over the speed limit and other drivers were going much faster than he was or the driver may blame his passenger for engaging him in conversation that was distracting. The principle being expressed here is that it is human nature to project blame away from oneself and to create excuses for behaviors that cause anxiety, loss of self-esteem, or guilt.

Similarly, the suspect guilty of a criminal act recognizes that committing the crime was wrong, so he also needs to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem. This justification process is one of the most significant differences between an innocent and guilty suspect; the guilty suspect has justified the crime in some manner, whereas the innocent person has not. In justifying the crime, the guilty suspect experiences much less of a troubled conscience when he later lies about committing it.

During the development of the theme, it is appropriate to initially develop a third-person theme wherein the investigator talks about some person or situation that is removed from, but similar to, the suspect’s present case. This third-person theme provides a foundation for the eventual presentation of a theme centered around the subject’s behavior. The following example illustrates a third-person theme.

Joe, the reason I want to talk with you today is that you remind me of a fellow we had in here a couple of weeks ago. He was young and ambitious and a real go-getter. By working his way up the ladder at a bank, he went from clerk to teller, and finally he was promoted to auditor within a period of eight or 10 months. Everything seemed to be going well for him. He had a loving wife, two lovely children, and they were in the process of moving to a newer home in a nice subdivision. One day, while he was balancing the books, he noticed a teller had failed to record a $6,000 deposit. This was the amount the fellow I’m talking about needed to complete a down payment on his new home. On the spur of the moment a decision was made to take the money. I don’t think I have to tell you what happened next. The bank noticed the shortage after the customer called. This young auditor came under suspicion, and I remember him sitting right where you are, telling me how sorry he was for taking the money. The reason you remind me of him is that, just like him, you have a lot going for you. You are intelligent, ambitious, and are basically very honest. I think what happened to you is that on the spur of the moment you decided to do this to help pay bills for food or maybe clothes for your family. . . .

As this example illustrates, the third-person theme should somewhat parallel the present suspect’s circumstances or motivation. While the story should have a “happy ending,” such as the person deciding to tell the truth, the investigator should not imply leniency as a result of the other suspect’s confession. For instance, it would be improper in the above example had the investigator stated: “After this fellow told the truth and explained his side of the story, the bank agreed to make the $6,000 out as a loan and to give him a raise to help support his family.”

The theme can be developed around a number of different concepts. Here are a few examples:

  • Sympathize with the Suspect by Saying That Anyone Else Under Similar Conditions or Circumstances Might Have Done the Same Thing
  • Reduce the Suspect’s Feeling of Guilt by Minimizing the Moral Seriousness of the Offense
  • Suggest a Less Revolting and More Morally Acceptable Motivation or Reason for the Offense Than That Which Is Known or Presumed
  • Sympathize with Suspect by Condemning Others, for example an accomplice

The emphasis of the interrogation process in the Reid Technique is to create an environment that makes it easier for a subject to tell the truth. An essential part of this is to suggest face-saving excuses for the subject's crime which include projecting blame away from the subject onto such elements as financial pressure, the victim's behavior, an accomplice, emotions, or alcohol.
There are two types of acceptable minimization that can occur during theme development:

  • minimizing the moral seriousness of the behavior
    minimizing the psychological consequences of the behavior

We never teach to minimize the legal consequences of the subject’s behavior.
In a White Paper written for the American Psychology-Law Society entitled, “Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations” (Law and Human Behavior 34,3-38 2010) the authors agree with us, stating that future recommendations for interrogation procedures should “permit moral and psychological forms of minimization, but ban legal minimization.”
As with all interrogations following the Reid Technique, the investigator should develop corroborating details for any admission of guilt, and follow the Reid core principles:

  1. Always conduct interviews and interrogations in accordance with the guidelines established by the courts

  2. Do not make any promises of leniency
  3. Do not threaten the subject with any physical harm or inevitable consequences
  4. Do not deny the subject any of their rights
  5. Do not deny the subject the opportunity to satisfy their physical needs
  6. Always treat the subject with dignity and respect

For additional information see our YouTube channel presentation, Empathy and Understanding, as well as our book, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 5th edition 2013.

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