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

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

The World of Iniquus - Action Adventure Romance

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to Get Your Villain to Confess His Crimes - Info for Writers w/Sgt. Pacifico

ThrillWriting welcomes back Sgt Derek Pacifico from Homicide School for Writers. Today, we are taking the next step in interrogations: the questions.

image found on Facebook

If you need to know the difference between an interview and an interrogation go HERE

If you need to build rapport before you start the questioning phase go HERE

Fiona - 
Sgt. Pacifico I would like to know what the TV shows, movies, and books are getting wrong in terms of the questioning phase. Can we talk about that aspect of the interview/interrogation?

Sgt. Pacifico -

Sgt. Derek Pacifico - Writers' Homicide School
Most people think interviewing is asking questions.

Most cops make this mistake too. Why? Because they've seen a thousand interviews done by television cops for years before they were old enough to become a cop themselves. 

Real interviewing requires a lot less talking from the cops then you'd think or expect. When we ask questions, we are requesting an answer to the question. 
* But what if we are asking the wrong question? 
* What if we don't know that there is a hidden topic
   to even ask about? 
* What is the suspect is expecting the questions and has
    the answers quite rehearsed? 

The most valuable asset to interviewing is listening skills. The best thing, I tell rookie detectives, that they can do, is SHUT THE HELL UP! That's right, quit talking. Now this is of course after the rapport building stage when we have been chatting about "sports and horses" and everyone is all friendly-like. Now that it's time to get him/her to talk about the event we are investigating, we need to go after narrative responses. 

The method for doing that - pay attention those of you who interview in a human resources job, are a supervisor who needs to get to the bottom of the problem, or a parent trying to figure out which of your kids broke the vase - is to simply start with this: "So, tell me what happened." This will force the person into speaking in their language in a narrative format. 

Not answering direct questions with a yes or no allows the investigator to compare the speech pattern to how they were speaking just moments ago about their favorite food, best movie they've seen or what ever it was during sports and horses.

Fiona - 
Shutting the hell up is very difficult - I know this as a counselor. When there is tension in the air, our socialization is to fill the void. I imagine the longer an officer practices this technique, the more comfortable she is in allowing the person being questioned to sit in discomfort.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Absolutely. It is a practiced skill to "actively listen." It's not simply sitting there looking bored and confused. It's the act of leaning in with an engaged and smiling look, nods and gestures to allow the person to feel comfortable to keep speaking.

Fiona - 
That level of attention must be exhausting.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Some of my interviews have lasted six hours and yes when completed, I'm first exhilarated to have gotten the confession, but then when the high falls off, I'm spent. 

Actually, my last stint as a full time homicide detective, I interrogated 5 suspects in a row for the better part of an entire day. I could barely drive home after we got through with the booking process. 
English: Star Trek style 3D chess board
 3D chess board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most police work, including street interviews is checkers. Detective work is chess. Sometimes, in some cases, a homicide interrogation is like playing 3D chess. For those of you who know what 3D chess is, you know what a mental workout it is.

Fiona - 
One is always trying to out maneuver the opponent. So, open ended questions versus closed ended questions - tell me about leading questions.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Leading questions are BAD! Very BAD! Extremely BAD! Yet, it's all that I see on television and movies, and the reason why real cops don't like most shows that claim authenticity. 

Here is why. 

If I have not said anything about the crime at all, and we've only spoken about sports and horses, now during the actual interview, I ask you to tell me what happened, and you say you got a ride to the party in your friends blue Mustang, you are introducing that information into the story. The fact that I knew this from a video or previous testimony only bolsters the fact you are thus far being honest. If however you had lied and said a red Camaro, I would know the lie. BUT, if If asked you, "Did you get a ride in your friend's blue Mustang?" You would know I know and wouldn't try to lie. 

You see, I don't want the suspect to know what I know so they don't know what to lie about and when. If I lead them with a piece of evidence, I'm essentially putting words in their mouths and with enough of it, I can lose an interview legally for being coercive. Or the defense will simply argue to the jury that the defendant didn't admit to anything, he only agreed with the detectives version. But that can't happen if I don't lead and don't' include any info until he has admitted it.

Fiona - 
And you're trying to catch them lying to you? As in you want to know if they are honest and you can believe their statements on the whole? (The guy could be color blind, just sayin'.)

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well if a guy is color blind, that will come up, and that's not the issue. But yes we are always testing the honesty, even the confession. 

We don't want false confessions. We don't want some poor kid to come in with a prepped story and being forced from his gang to admit to a crime he didn't commit because he is young and first timer, taking the blame for a seasoned and career criminal. If the guy in the room was the one who did it, his version will match the evidence in every detail. If it doesn't then we start to suspect he is a patsy. It's happened. 

We want the truth and real resolution. I tell the guy in the room, "Listen, I get paid by the hour not whether I make an arrest or not. There are no bonuses for arrests and no penalties for not making one. I'm after the truth and resolution to the case. That's it."

Fiona - 

What happens to that kid if his story didn't wash, you send him back on the street, and the gang thinks he didn't do his job?

Sgt Pacifico - 
It's a Rat!!
It's a Rat!! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yeah, we just toss him back out there with a pound of cheese and say, "Thanks rat!" It's usually not quite as dramatic maybe as I inferred. Often, the false confessor is indeed involved in the crime but may not be the main player. So he is going down for lesser included crimes or accessory, but we go after the main player. But yeah, if you are in a gang and rat on the other guy, which they almost always do, there are bound to be repercussions when everyone is in the jail together.

Fiona - 

Sgt. Pacifico - 
It's funny from my perspective that the gangbangers still to this day think they are bold and brave, and believe that they nor anyone else would every tell on them. Well how do you think I got your name, address and started my investigation in the first place? From your brother gang members. Outsiders don't know who the bad guys are. The shop keep and the taxpaying neighbors don't know who did it. Gang members rat. Everyday, all the time. They just tell themselves they don't.

Fiona - 
What time frame seems the most reliable for having a clear memory? For example if I speak to someone the day after I get good info, but if I wait .... then I get garbage

Sgt. Pacifico - 
There are some studies I've read, but can not cite since they were years ago and I didn't keep them, that say immediately after a traumatic or exciting event is NOT the best time to do the interview. But for understandable reasons, its really the only time we will get quick information to find a suspect and/or be able to keep witnesses around, e.g. car crash witnesses, bank robbery witnesses, etc. Once the adrenaline has worn off and they have had a chance to process the information they are often better. In murders and other serious crimes,, we have commonly called witnesses back the next day and done a whole complete interview again, usually getting a much richer in detail set of facts.

Fiona - 
In the interview what is the criminal's mind set?

Sgt Pacifico - 
With suspects, it goes in one of two primary ways. 
* They "don't know nuthin' bout' nuthin!" and the interview ends
   pretty quickly and then goes into the next phase. 
* The suspect tells a version of the story he knows he can't get
   away from but excludes himself from the bad thing.

There are five phases in an interrogation/interview
* The First phase if you recall is interview prep.
* The second phase was rapport building.
* The third phase is the interview (which can last 10 seconds or
    multiple hours). 
* The fourth phase is "the break"
* The fifth and final phase is the interrogation.

Fiona - 
Ah - so now I know what we'll talk about next month.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
The break is right after the interview be it a short or long one. The break is caused by some ruse, I always used needing to go to the bathroom as the excuse - which more often than not was indeed true. During the break we take the suspect to the bathroom, allow him to get a drink from the fountain if he wants and if he smokes a (final) cigarette. Then he goes back into the room. We detectives go and huddle up and talk with our peers and the sergeant and make a game plan for the interrogation - which we will get into more detail next time.

Fiona - 
Do you often ask people to sketch, or act out an event? Have you ever used hypnosis to help a witness remember a crime or to allow a suspect to try to remember some detail that would exonerate them?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes we do ask them to sketch. It has multiple purposes and begets various helpful responses. When they are lying about their actions and we ask them to sketch it, the drawing is usually very confusing because demonstrating it on paper is a lot more defining that just trying to double speak and dance verbally around the specifics in an attempt to confuse the interrogator. Sometimes the sketch can be the trigger for a liar to start confessing as they see the futility in how their ridiculous story sounds. But when they are telling the truth, sketches drawn by the suspect that match crime scene photos we took weeks earlier are magic in court!

Fiona - 
How does this change if they lawyered up?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
If a suspect, at any time requests a lawyer, all questions stop and we are done. Hardly ever happened to me. Cops are stupid donut eating jocks who couldn't make it in pro-ball. Crooks are clever, conniving thieves who can surely buffalo the jerk with the badge in the room. At least that's what they think. I don't mind it. Kind of Columbo-like.

Fiona - 
OK but say they did and now the lawyer is in there with the questioning - do they usually allow that or just say no?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
First, the suspect may request a lawyer, but on high average, he ain't got one he can call. The interview ceases and we will decide based on our case and timing whether or not arresting and booking the suspect is the proper thing to do. Sometimes we aren't successful with an interrogation of a guy we KNOW did it, but don't have enough information so we release him. Murder warrants can be obtained and plane tickets purchased if he fleas.

Fiona - 
I want to make sure we have time for you to talk about Homicide School.What classes are you teaching? What do participants get to try themselves?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
June 9-10 I will be in LAS VEGAS putting on my WRITERS HOMICIDE SCHOOL. We are at the D Las Vegas, downtown's newest and hippest attraction. Sunday the 8th, we are having a private reception in the VUE bar. Monday morning, we get going at 9am - 3pm with open Q&A from 3-4pm. 

Then Monday night we are going as a group to the award winning "Marriage Can Be Murder" dinner show! There are still seats available! Please checkout THIS LINK to buy your tickets.

I've read reviews - your students love you.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
I love speaking to writers, they come with an open heart and mind, wanting to be taught something new. They are excited about some of the things I might find routine and it makes it so much fun to watch them get all excited about the new info!

I start the class with some basic information about police work in general, crime codes and some other myth-breaking information and then we delve right into crime scene investigation, case reviews, blood spatter interpretation and exercises, interview and interrogation and stories, stories, stories!

Fiona - 
I love stories. Share a quick one then I know you need to run.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Sure, here is one about a FEMALE murder suspect! 

This woman, her hubby and teen-aged daughter lived out in the desert area of our county. Dirt lot with a dirt driveway from a dirt road. Pavement was hundreds of yards away if not more. That's important because she calls 911 in the morning to report her husband was the victim of an overnight intruder style burglary/homicide. 

Only she didn't realize that the rains from three days prior had completely washed the desert tracks clean and the only shoe and tire tracks within a thousand yards of her residence where her's, hubbie's and teen-ager's. Oh, and she forgot to have any forced entry. Oh, and she forgot to have stuff stolen. Oh, and she forgot to have a reason why he is dead yet she and teenager were asleep in the bedroom down the hall, and they were unharmed. Oh, and she forgot to destroy the credit card receipts her hubby was laying on showing the incredible gambling debt she had incurred. 

She kept her cool and never confessed and actually fled to Georgia for a few weeks when we weren't looking. Once we had enough evidence, we went and got her. She is doing life in prison...

Fiona - 
YAY! On that happy note, we thank you for your time and expertise. 

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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  1. Great post, as always, Fiona. Are you aware of a non-fiction book that provides detailed info on police and investigator procedures, judicial pipeline and lawyer/client interactions? I'm thinking of something written especially for writers who want to get it right or interested civilians. Thanks!

    1. I highly recommend Lee Loflands book.

      Cheers, Fiona