The “Reid Technique” of Police Interrogation
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. But I have worked in the law enforcement field in private security.
Before the interrogation starts: Police do their homework. They have already likely interviewed witnesses and collected evidence before you land in the interrogation chair. So if they’re grilling you hard, this might be a sign that they either have nothing on you unless you confess, or that they only have a partial conviction but could have a full conviction with your cooperation. If they already have overwhelming evidence and witness testimony, interrogating you will be a mere formality, if it even happens.
Look to the left or right when you’re seated in the interrogation room. See the huge mirror on the wall? That mirror is actually one-way glass; behind it is usually several detectives, police, psychology experts, and anybody else who might help. They’ll be watching and recording the process, perhaps even coaching the interrogator when he steps out of the room for a minute.
Also be aware: There is no law that says police have to tell you the truth when they interrogate you! They are free to concoct elaborate lies and use any psychological trick they please – and they’re trained in this from day one. Every good interrogator is part actor. And this technique is designed to play on your emotions. So, to start with, the first step is:
1. Confrontation. They start by presenting the facts of the case that they know and the evidence against you. Remember, this “evidence” might be completely made up! Typically, the interrogator will act as if they already have enough to convict you; the impression that they want to give is that you might as well make things easier on yourself since if you lie they’ll know it.
A detective might enter with a huge folder full of paper, plop down, fan through it, and look at you while shaking his head. They may say they have your crime recorded on tape, your partner already ratted you out, they have multiple witnesses, etc. Once more, this is theater. They’re looking for signs of you squirming uncomfortably, which will show that they’re on the right track. Actions speak louder than words.
2. Theme development. Forget you telling them what happened, first the interrogator will tell you what they “know” happened. They may minimize the crime at this point, giving you a chance to jump in and justify your actions. If you start talking as if you accept that what has been said at this point is the truth, they’ll be smiling and writing it down. The interrogation is over; you just confessed! If not, it’s on to…
3. Stopping you from denials. If you make any objection, they will hush you with words like, “You’ll get a chance to talk later, but right now you need to listen!” The object here is to stop you from saying the magic words, “I didn’t do it!” If you make denials now out loud, that will strengthen your resolve and make it tougher to sweat a confession out of you later. A related method at this point is…
4. Overcoming objections. An objection is very, very different from a denial, and it’s very important at this point to understand the difference between the two. An objection is an appeal to logic. Let’s say for example that you’re in for kicking a dog.
- An innocent person will flatly deny it: “I did not kick the dog, no matter what people think they saw.”
- A guilty person will instead say: “I couldn’t have kicked that dog, because I’m a member of PETA and the ASPCA and I have two dogs of my own and love them like family!”
See the difference? Look for the keywords “couldn’t have” and “because”. In this example, the detective will smile wide and say something like, “Of course you love dogs, which is why this one time was just a momentary lapse of judgment! Isn’t that right?” If you nod your head here, you have just confessed to the “momentary lapse of judgment”! For which you will be prosecuted the same as if you did it on purpose with deliberate intention. The interrogation is over! But if you didn’t crack here, the next step is…
5. Getting your trust. The interrogation will switch to a friendlier, more relaxed tone. The interrogator will sympathize with you, offering you alternative, more socially acceptable justifications for your actions. They might offer you a drink of water, a cigarette, or hint that confessions sometimes result in a lighter sentence. They might pitch questions out of left field, seemingly unrelated, asking if you have been drinking or are suffering from depression, and so on.
The object here is to come on as a friend. The interrogator is trying to help you through this difficult situation, you see? It’s up to you. You can make it easier on yourself, or you can play the tough character. This is also a great opportunity to play “good cop, bad cop”: one officer will act angry and impatient with you, and then storm out of the room… giving the “good cop” a chance to present a contrasting sympathy, hoping that you’ll jump at the opportunity to have your confession handled by the “good cop” instead. Then it’s on to…
6. Pouncing on defeat. If you’re actually guilty of a real crime that hurt someone, and you’re not a clinical psychopath, this is the time when you’ll typically be showing cracks in your resolve. They’re looking for signs of a nervous breakdown:
- drooping head, slumped posture
- tears of remorse
- covering your face with your hands in shame
- looking around the room from one face to another in a silent plea for mercy
A moment of silence will go by, as the team holds its collective breath waiting for you to crack. If you do, the interrogation is over. If not, it’s on to…
7. Presenting alternatives. A new round of constructing a theme will begin in earnest. Two alternative explanations of your action will be presented. One makes you sound like a terrible person, and one justifies your actions to make it sound like your crime was just a “mistake”. The only difference here again is your motive to commit the crime; they’ll both carry the same sentence! To use the “kicking the dog” metaphor again:
- You’re a dog-hater! You deliberately went over and kicked it!
- You were walking and didn’t pay attention and the dog got in your way. You didn’t know what you were doing until it happened. You were drunk. You were still fuming from an argument with your spouse. You have a suppressed fear of dogs, etc.
They’ll present these as your only two options, and repeat them over and over; this is designed to break you down. The interrogator will talk and talk, getting more rote and boring, as he goes over the two scenarios again and again. They’ll go back and forth. They’ll be watching for you to show any sign of agreement at all at any point, even a slight nod of the head or a slip of the tongue. At this point, if you still haven’t cracked, the interrogation will eventually taper to an end. The last two steps only happen in the case of a confession:
8. You open up and confess! As soon as you show the tiniest sign of concession to any of the above tactics, more officials will enter the room. This is because confessions carry more weight in court if there are more witnesses. The more you talk, the more they’ll smile. And if you’re confessing, you’ll be feeling a great sense of relief as you, the confessor, suddenly have the floor before a happy audience. You almost expect the room to burst into applause when you’re done, but instead it’s…
9. Recording your confession. It will be written down, recorded on tape, confirmed by witnesses. Suddenly you’re back in your cell, while detectives meticulously go over your every word. Enjoy your fast trial and speedy sentencing!
That’s the whole technique by the proverbial book. And remember that this doesn’t scratch the surface of what goes on off the book. Remember that they cannot legally practice coercion and torture. Remember that you have a right to a lawyer to advise you. Remember that you have every legal right to sit there like a statue and not say a single word.
The term “Reid technique” is a registered trademark of the firm John E. Reid and Associates, which offers training courses in the method.