False Confessions

Systems & methods are almost never, in & of themselves, to blame

By Jim Glennon  |   Mar 20, 2017
Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn5Share on Google+0Email this to someonePrint this page

Does Reid & Associates teach officers a confrontational method of interviewing and interrogating that results in false confessions? I ask that question because recently they were basically accused of that. Or rather—the method they teach was accused of that.

So does their method result in false confessions? Not at all.

First it’s important to address this at the outset: I have absolutely no relationship whatsoever with Reid & Associates, who I believe to have the premier interview and interrogation training program in the country. I have, however, been to more than a half a dozen classes, seminars and lectures conducted by them over my 30-year career.

So I was both confused and skeptical when I read a press release distributed by one of their competitors. Their headline was more a declaration saying that they were discontinuing teaching the “Reid Method After More Than 30 Years.” They then insinuated that the “Reid Method” had been responsible for obtaining false confessions. Several academics weighed in applauding the decision which seemed to give the insinuation validity.

Again, I have no personal or professional relationship with anyone at Reid, but I do know what works as a real cop who spent a great deal of my career interviewing and interrogating. I also know when a characterization of both a company and a system is just flat out wrong. And this one is.

I’m not writing this to defend Reid. They don’t need my help. My intention here is to address a couple of broader points: 1. A method, in and of itself—short of torture—does not cause an innocent person to confess; and 2. The shortsightedness of maligning competition to improve your standing in this profession.

Only as Good as the Operator

I joke at the beginning of my book, Arresting Communication, that I have no natural talent. I can’t hammer two sticks together or hold a tune.

But God gives everyone some sort of skillset and luckily the one he gave me worked perfectly for my profession: I was really good at interviewing people and interrogating suspects. I even taught I & I for years, using my own experiences and my educational background having a BA in Psychology and being a voracious reader of human behavior and body language books.

And I can tell you this without equivocation: I never obtained a false confession and I used what I learned through Reid all the time.

So, what gives?

In every one of my classes I recommend that all cops go to the Reid seminars. I also tell them this: If you think their program is a cookie-cutter, step-by-step system for interviewing and interrogating, you’re wrong.

What Reid does is give you great insight into people under stress: Things to look for, body language and verbal analysis, timing of words used and not used, and so on. They do explain and give examples of ‘bait’ questions and answers that you should be wary of. But they make sure that students understand that in their evaluation of others, nothing is 100%. They must consider things in their totality.

Finally, Reid explains how to actually take a confession. Contrary to what I’ve read by the academics—who know very little about actual interrogations—a suspect simply declaring, “I did it” isn’t a confession. It’s much more complicated than that.

A proficient and skilled interrogator knows it’s critically important to get suspects to reveal their motives, their planning stages, their hesitations, what they felt, exactly where they were before, during and after the crime; if applicable, finding out where they bought equipment, placed it afterwards; and more. In short, suspects have to give plausible information that the interrogator didn’t and couldn’t give them—data independent of the interrogator’s knowledge.

So my point is this: If false confessions resulted from an interrogation—and, yes, there have been many—it was ‘operator error.’ And that shame is on the officer who conducted said interrogation. No method, including Reid’s, can wrest a confession from someone who didn’t do it. That said, any method can be misused or abused by an individual officer.

My last point about Reid. More than 20 years ago they were on top of the false confession phenomenon. I know this because I went to at least two seminars put on by their staff. Part of this seminar was a panel discussion that included lawyers and practitioners.

Conclusion

The police in this country aren’t perfect and we need to own up to what we do wrong, both institutionally and individually. But to in anyway insinuate that false confessions are either prevalent or a result of a storied company’s proven method is both dangerous and disingenuous.

Let’s not fan the flames of discontent and mistrust any more than has already been done reference police tactics and protocols. Let’s start demanding truth be told and stop ascribing evil intent or malicious indifference to law enforcement as a whole.

Misconceptions and false accusations might sideline a competitor, but they will also negatively impact our profession. Police need good, proven training—now more than ever.

The following two tabs change content below.
Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.