The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The All-important Bathroom Break - How to Get Your Villain to 'Fess Up: Info for Writers with Sgt Pacifico

A roll of toilet paper attached to the wall of...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona - 
Well Sgt Pacifico, are you ready to finish the last in our interrogation series? The last time we chatted you were headed to the bathroom ...

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes indeed...the bathroom break! So remember back in the beginning when we talked about the constitution a little?

Fiona - 

Yup (Miranda Warnings and the 5th and 6th amendments LINK)

Sgt. Pacifico - 
There is another one called the 14th amendment which addresses coercive things cops may do intentionally or unintentionally that can render an interrogation illegal.

Okay, so here is the scenario. The detectives did a great job building rapport. They conducted a proper interview, learning much from the suspect about his body language and truth-telling style (Those things we spoke about earlier LINK). Now we turn into the interrogation part where we start getting him on the fence, and he exclaims, "I really gotta pee! I gotta go to the bathroom. I can't think anymore, and I can't hold it!" Well, how do we know if this is true or not. And it could be true, we gave him fries and a soda, he may actually have to go.

Fiona - 
Some people have small bladders

Sgt. Pacifico -
If we don't stop and give him a break, our interrogation afterward could - not automatically and always, but could - be determined to be coercive in nature because the man confessed so he could avoid soiling himself. Some may find this acceptable, while others find it ridiculous. It doesn't ever matter what you think. Remember, it is what the judge will rule.

But I digress. In order to avoid this issue, we take a bathroom break. We don't even invite him to go; we just shuttle him there. "Well, guys, I think this is a good place to take a break," the detective says. "I gotta use the head. Come on I'll show you where its at," says the detective to the suspect.

Fiona -
Wait. They pee side by side - that just seems... wrong.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
No. Actually, we take the suspect to the secure bathroom, essentially a small observation cell with a toilet, (a small block wall obscures view of the actual commode). Then we go off and use the employee washroom. We leave him in there with his thoughts, and we are free to roam about our office without the fear of him running away because he is locked in the room. Serves those two purposes wonderfully.

However, if he is a non-custodial interview, we can't lock him in there. We have to walk him back into the interview room and leave a guard nearby to ensure he doesn't wonder about in confidential areas, but not seem like he is under guard. Otherwise, it becomes custodial. Remember that part from earlier?

Fiona - 
Yup.   (LINK)

Sgt. Pacifico - 
What we do once the suspect is settled either in the obs room or back in the interview room is gather together in our sergeant's office and go over what we just learned.

The sergeant, and really everyone in homicide who isn't critically busy, will be watching the interview and interrogation. Everyone wants the detectives to succeed, and this is game time. There may be some jabs and jokes here and there, but it's usually pretty serious. There will be no messing around that causes any interruption in the flow of the detectives or the case.

We discuss what we saw and heard. How did he look when he talked about certain aspects of the story? Did he look direct or away? Did his eyes shift differently? Did his body language change dramatically at certain points? How was his tone, tenor, volume and pitch when we changed from topic to topic getting more and more into the story? Did he seem more nervous or more relaxed? What was an obvious lie, what wasn't? What are we going to spend our time on as a theme to get him to give up the like and confess the truth? What roles are we going to play going back into the room?

Fiona -
Do you use computer software to track micro-expressions?
Also, do you use voice analysis to check for pitch?

Sgt. Pacifico  -
We didn't use any software for micro-expressions. None existed at the time, or at least not at the level of the local police agency. Maybe some of alphabets were using it but not us locals. Voice stress analysis was not considered all that reliable. Besides, when you are good at this, it's way better to be there in the moment, knowing what you are doing. It's like an artist with a blank canvas. A true artist can paint the picture without using paint-by-numbers.
You develop a 6th sense

Fiona - 
So, you've huddled up...

Sgt. Pacifico -
We have all agreed on what we think of this guy and his story. We've also agreed on how we are going to approach him to confront his story. Now its time to head in. For. One. Last. Time. 

You see, the reason for the bathroom break is coming into focus. We legitimately all probably needed one anyway, but now when we get in there and into the next phase and start making him sweat, and he pulls out the bathroom card, we can say no. We can say right there on the video, which is all time-stamped, "You just went 20 minutes ago. Stop making excuses for not telling the truth and ......" We can say this and not worry about our tactics being considered coercive. 

In the time we have had him, we fed him, gave him drink, allowed him to smoke, and let him use the facilities, all the while treating him nicely. Kinda hard to call us mean ole' detectives who berated defense counsel clients into submission through our horrible tactics.

Fiona - 
I know you're running through a thought process here, but could you take a moment to list the 14th amendment no-nos?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Sure, I'll list them from some obvious ones to the not so obvious. 
* Hitting or striking a suspect probably shoots right to the top. 
   (It doesn't work anyway. A detective so unskilled that he resorts
    to hitting a suspect is probably also leading the statement, and
    forcing the suspect to say what he wants anyway. It's just plain
* Sleep deprivation caused by rotating fresh detectives for endless
* Multiple detectives shouting and crowding like drill instructors in
   the military. 
* Threats are up pretty high but are the ones the television writers
   use the most and probably don't know are coercive and
   ridiculously illegal. It's also where cops learn to say
   these things. For example, "If you don't tell me what I need to
   know, I'll just book you until you can make bail, put you in the
   cell tank with our worst criminals, and see if you want to tell me
   something after they've had a go around with you. How much do
   you weigh? A buck-fifty? Let's see if you can make it through the
   night." Believe it or not, real cops have said these things and
   they're strait from badly written movies and books.
* Promises is right up there with threats. If I promise leniency or to
   do some favor, then I have entered a quid pro quo that can rule
   the confession illegal. He only confessed for the deal or the
   promise made. This is so prevalent in the movies and
   television. Yet in reality, cops have no authority over charges
   and leniency; that's the prosecutor's office who has that power.
   The suspect in the room ask for deals, thinking the cops
   can make those deals happen like in the movies. It is a real dance
   in there. It's very stressful to essentially tell the guy there are no
   deals. Stop watching television and this is how the real world
   works. But doing it with care. I have on occasion, said, "Dude,
   you watch way too much TV. That shit only happens in your 
   living room. In here, there are no deals made by cops. That ain't
   the law and this isn't television." Feel free to use that line if you
Then there is withholding food, water, bathroom. 

Fiona - 
Very interesting.
Thank you.
So there's a technique that could be deemed coercive, I guess, where the detective will not allow the suspect to deny the crime...

Do you know what I'm talking about?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes, but that's not coercive, and that's what we indeed do. let me explain.

The hardest thing for new detectives to do for some reason is make a direct accusation. I don't know why that is, but even in interrogation class during mock interrogations they skip over this part. 

What we do when we walk back into the room for the first time after the break is make a strong, affirmative, confrontational accusation. "John, we have completed our investigation. What we have here (pointing to the newly brought in stack of reports and DVDs) is weeks worth of non-stop investigating. Our investigation clearly points to you! You, John, are the one who killed your neighbor!" And then pause....

Interestingly, that short pause you think would give the suspect the appropriate time to deny. The innocent almost always start denying right away. Wanna know how often, loudly and crazily the guilty suspects deny?

Fiona - 

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Almost never. Guilty suspects hardly every say anything and make those, "Hmph. Pfft. Sheesh. Yeah right..." 

That's been my experience most of the time. Or the guilty ones start asking questions like, "Why would I do that? I would never do that!" Now LISTEN to what he ACTUALLY said. "Why WOULD I do that?" Future tense and not a denial of the past act. "I WOULD never do that." Also a future tense and not a denial of the past act. A real denial sounds like this, "I did not kill my neighbor. I didn't do it."

Fiona - 
I didn't, I swear!

The use of the formal "did not" and "neighbor" instead of a name are not distancing (lying) techniques in your experience?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Oh sure, there is far more to it than what I'm giving you here. In this particular area, we spend several hours if not the better part of an entire day in interrogation school. Actually, this notion of what was said and how it was said is talked about all week.

So directly on the heels of making a pointed and direct accusation that the person killed the victim, and without saying, "You are the one who shot, strangled and suffocated the victim" because this is leading. We get the hows and whys later.

Fiona - 
The fine line of coercion here being - "Our documentation points to you." v. "You stabbed Mrs. Cranach!"

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well, the point is that we make a specific accusation. 

"You Dave, killed your wife! There was no mystery intruder. We know exactly what happened now and have ruled out all other suspects other than you!"

Fiona - 
Okay - I think I have it. You're still saying that you have drawn a conclusion based on documented findings.

Wow, you have to be really on your toes about what pops out of your mouth. Being that vigilant must be mentally exhausting.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes, it can be mentally exhausting, but only afterward. My very last case I ever worked as an active detective was coincidentally one of my most marathon interrogations. I interrogated five equally guilty suspects in a robbery-homicide where they all repeatedly beat their "friend" to death. It took all day from morning until night, one after another. I was never tired during the process. We had already been up two days straight before so with some naps here and there, I was essentially going on 36 hours with little to no sleep. During the interrogations I was wide awake. But after the adrenaline wore off, I couldn't drive home. I had to stop once to sleep for like an hour on the side of the road because I was asleep at the wheel.

Fiona - 
They need a recovery room with a cot for the interrogators.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
We actually have a bunk room. I thought I'd make it home. I was fine until I got into the quiet comfortable car with no more noise, interaction, or need for my brain to function. It turned off like a switch.

Fiona - 
I'm glad you took a rest break and got home safe.
Okay, a while back, I broke into your sequencing for your final brow-beating - er, I mean - stage of the interrogation.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
(Continuing as the interrogator) "Now Dave, (he not yet having said a word of denial other than to feign some disgust at being accused) what I want to talk to you about is the "why." It seems pretty clear to me, based on what we've talked about, that you are a pretty good guy. But I think something happened that day you wish you could take back. Something snapped maybe? Maybe all the stresses in your life that we talked about (Here SPORTS AND HORSES - LINK) earlier were just too much for you to handle today. You came in and saw you wife with another new expensive item you can't afford. It drove you into a rage you couldn't control. I get it..."

At this point, or after many attempts at points like this, we call THEMES, the suspect will start to crumble and stop any and all denials - if any existed - and really hone in on what we are saying. Eventually, they will chose a theme. They lie and make some sort of admission.

Fiona -
What are some of the typical themes?

Sgt. Pacifico -
Well, we can totally lie and bluff! We make accusations to innocent people who wind up being great witnesses because once they think we think they are the suspect - and maybe we had it wrong, they tell us what we need to know. Also, sometimes we are led astray. We make an accusation, and the subject flatly denies it - strongly, assertively, never waivers, and continues down a path of innocent behaviors. We can make the determination they are not our suspect and clear them from the case. I've cleared falsely accused thieves and child molesters who were vindictively accused by friends and ex-lovers of wrong doing. These tactics work to prove innocence as well as determining guilt.

Fiona - 
Oh good.

Can you tell me some innocent behaviors?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Innocent people don't make excuses. They don't get nervous, they get angry at false accusations. The anger remains with the continued accusation. Fake anger, put on by guilty people changes to something else because they forget to pretend to be angry.

Guilty people try to stall and avoid answering questions and find other topics to try and talk about it. They try and create physical space distance to "run away." 

Innocent people are adamant, clear spoken, forceful in their convictions, look you in the eye. Get loud and may even be somewhat rude when they weren't before hand. Because the continued accusations of the innocent makes you a jerk, the continued accusations of the guilty makes you a guy doing your job. 

The themes come from the discussions in the interview. The phrase I keep repeating throughout the interrogation school I teach cops is this, "If you don't conduct a proper rapport and interview, how are you going to know what to talk about during the interrogation?" 

Bottom line, we talk in the interrogation until they decide that they know this is not going away, that they are caught, and the evidence has them boxed in. Then they start making micro-admissions to see how much trouble they are in or how they can minimize the trouble they're in.

Fiona - 
Once they admit to a crime, do you make them write it out and sign? Or is it okay just to do it on the video?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Once they confess, the video and audio is all that we need. However, sometimes they want to write an apology letter to the family of the victims, which of course is a written confession. So we let them do that and put a copy on records, of course. 

Well that's really it, I guess for what we can do in this limited time and space. Remember, this is a 40-hour course for basic interviewing and interrogation with another 40 hours of advanced interviewing, forensic handwriting analysis, polygraph is another 80-hour mini-school, and the list goes on. 

We have only touched on some of the basic ideas and tactics. If your readers want to learn more, they should really attend my Writers Homicide School. Sadly, we are not having anymore in 2014. From this point forward we are going to only host one annual WHS per year. It will be a big blow out event in Las Vegas June 6-7. 2015. Then there may be another one in Australia. I've been invited there, and we are working out some details now. 

Also, any writer anytime can sign up for a private consultation to get the specific answers they need regarding interviews and interrogation or ANY aspect of police work they need. They simply go to and sign up for a private consultation.


Fiona - 

 Sgt. - thank you so much for going the extra mile with me and finishing out the series of interviews. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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