Citation: Alkaline. "Surviving Law Enforcement Interrogations: An Experience with Drug War Interrogation (exp25106)". Erowid.org. Jul 9, 2003. erowid.org/exp/25106
As a former US Army Intelligence Interrogator (they call 'em HUMINT Collectors now...), I would like to provide a few tips for surviving a law enforcement interrogation, and relate one of my experiences on the 'wrong end' of a law enforcement interrogation.
First of all, nothing can prepare you for a military interrogation, and it is common knowledge, even expected, that well-trained soldiers may crack under the pressure of a fairly tame military interrogation.
That said, law enforcement interrogations work under the same basic principals as military interrogations, but they are limited with regards to the level and intensity of physical interactions between police and suspects, and the fact that law enforcement must give you a lawyer eventually, and must at least appear superficially to be respecting a suspect's civil liberties. For example, military interrogators will threaten all kinds of unspeakable business, threaten to kill you and have you listed as KIA, put you in what are called 'stress positions,' which is essentially chaining you into an extremely uncomfortable position for hours at a time, sleep deprivation, time distortions, psychological misdirection, taking away basic priviliges like clothing, bedding, personal hygiene, etc... The Israelis even have a specific technique in which interrogators will take turns shaking a detainee for hours at a time-- all of the above are effective in persuading a detainee to talk.
Of course, one primary difference is that the military can detain you for practically as long as they want-- so they have plenty of time to wait for some of these techniques to take their psychological toll. Law enforcement is different in that they know eventually they will have to give you a lawyer, let you contact the outside world, and they are abundantly aware that they cannot beat you or do anything physically questionable.
Obviously law enforcement professionals do not always follow these guidelines, but most of their leverage with physical intimidation revolves around convincing a suspect that they are 'so angry' about whatever a suspect's done, that they are willing to bend the rules and slap you around. In reality, they very rarely are willing to do so, and are probably afraid to touch you, especially if you look like you can get a good lawyer. (ie... look middle class, seem educated, are not an ethnic minority, etc...) Interrogators will often try to appear angry and antagonistic, to give a suspect the impression that they will be harmed- it is important to remember that in the majority of cases it is not true, they are not going to touch you, but do not put on a 'tough guy' routine and invite them to do so, just be firm and do your best not to flinch. Don't ask, FIRMLY DEMAND to see a lawyer immediately, and they will probably back off.
In general, law enforcement interrogations are formulaic and predictable-- the majority of police (especially local police) are neither inclined, trained, or encouraged to 'get creative' with interrogations-- if you (the suspect) know what to look for, it is not difficult to see their formula at work. Again, the military, as well as, I suspect, highly professional federal agencies like the DEA, BATFE (ATF), FBI, etc... have a greater pool of resources to work with, and their techniques probably reflect this. Law enforcement, however, will usually follow a predictable pattern, and police only have a few tricks up their sleeves, so if you are careful, you won't fall for it.
If there is significant physical evidence against you, or mulitiple reliable witnesses, there might not be much you can do, and this report is not meant to help anyone get away with serious or violent crime, but there are cases, like mine, where otherwise normal, responsible people are seriously interrogated for what should be trivial offenses, and it's important to remember that innocent or guilty, right or wrong, appropriate or not, the police techniques are generally THE SAME.
My case is fairly typical, I was initially arrested and taken to my local police station on four domestic battery charges, for a seriously stupid fight with two of my roommates. Though it is hard for most rational people to believe it, if someone else picks a fight with you, and you beat their ass, they CAN get you arrested if they go to the police FIRST, and LIE about who started it. I am approximately half the size of my roommate, he picked the fight, I kicked his ass, nevertheless, I was the one arrested because he called the cops and I didn't. The law in my state is set up in such a way, that if you live under the same roof as the person you beat up, it technically counts as domestic battery, and they have to take you in and put you in lock up for the night under some kind of 'wife beater' law. Needless to say, I wasn't beating my wife, I was beating my piece of shit male roommate who's twice my size and started it anyway, but he was the pussy who called the cops, and I wasn't, so voila, I got to spend the night in county lock up, he got to stay home, slash my tires, and break a bunch of my stuff. No, it isn't fair, but the law seldom is.
Anyway, it wasn't until I got to the local police station that the fun began. I was already arrested for battery, so they didn't interrogate me about that, what they did do was chain me to an undersized and extremely uncomfortable bench for an hour and a half, in an empty room, while they waited for me to get tired and cranky. Before this I had asked about my lawyer, my rights, calling out for bail, no one told me anything, the response in each case was 'they only do that in the movies, son...' As they were moving me into the holding cell I tried to read the rights that were posted on the wall, and I was pushed forward and told to move before I got past the first couple lines.
After this hour and a half on the bench in the empty holding cell, two hulking plainclothes state troopers came in trying to look their meanest. The bigger one was trying for 'bad cop' and the slightly smaller one was trying for 'not quite so bad cop,' it was fairly insulting to me, because the old fashioned good cop bad cop routine only works on dumbasses and junkies... At any rate, they weren't interested in my battery charges, they wanted to know about DRUGS... They were both at least twice my size, (Incidentally, I am well built, but not big, and they probably thought that they could intimidate me with the size differential...) They both sat down near me, facing me from different angles, this is common because surrounding a suspect increases stress without the interrogators actually having to say or do anything. Here is a rundown, to the best of my memory, of the dialogue that took place...
Me: You gentlemen are here to talk to me about my charges?
BC: No, that's for the local cops to deal with, we're state troopers on the county drug task force, and I think you know what we're here about. (leans closer)
Me: Actually I don't, and if you're not interested in talking about my charges then I'd like to know what this is about.
BC: Don't jerk us around! Your name has come up quite a few times in the last year, and we know about what you've been doing.
Me: I have no idea what you're talking about.
GC: C'mon, don't insult our intelligence, we know all about it.
Me: about what?
BC: listen, we have over fifty undercovers and narcs in this town alone! you've had parties, they've been in your house, they've seen you dealing weed, acid, x, we have pictures of you getting high and dealing from your house! did you think we wouldn't find out?
Me: I've never sold drugs in my life, and if you really had people in my house they'd tell you the same thing I'm telling you
GC: they told us you were selling x.
Me: I've never sold x, in fact I've never tried x, and I wouldn't even know where to get it if I could.
BC: (leaning closer) don't piss me off! I will get a warrant RIGHT NOW and we'll go in there. If we find anything after you've told us you're clean, you have no idea what we're gonna do.
GC: do you know how serious it is to lie to the police?
Me: if you really have all these narcs and undercovers in my house, you'd know that this is a pointless conversation.
GC: hey man, x is fucking serious, if you cooperate with us we can work something out. if you don't cooperate we're gonna go in anyway, and if we find anything we're gonna put you away for five to ten...
Me: I swear I've never sold drugs, I don't do X, I don't do acid, I don't even smoke pot.
BC: (looking ready to explode) Do NOT insult us, of course you smoke weed, we know you do.
Me: I quit months ago, before I even moved in there.
GC: we have pictures of you smoking in the house...
Me: I doubt that.
BC: You've been selling acid and x, and you're telling us you don't smoke weed? you've got to be kidding me-- if we test you right now what are you gonna test positive for? we can do that if we want, and if you test positive we're gonna go in your house.
Me: I am not here for a drug offense, I will not submit to a test, and even if I were to test positive, I have never dealt or used drugs in that house.
GC: we know you at least smoke weed there
Me: I've never smoked weed there, I haven't smoked weed for 6 months, and I only moved in there last month.
BC: you expect us to believe that shit?
Me: whether you believe it or not is irrelevant, I am telling you that I DO NOT do drugs, the only illegal drug I've ever tried is pot, and I quit that six months ago, before I moved into that house-- I DO NOT AND HAVE NEVER DEALT DRUGS, and if I were to do any of that I certainly would not do it in my house.
BC: I don't believe you! You know what I think? I think you're a dumbass college kid who thinks he's gonna be clever and jerk us around!
GC: this is gonna go a lot better for you if we see some cooperation...
Me: I AM cooperating, I am telling you the truth-- i do not do drugs, i do not deal drugs, and I've never done anything against the law in that house.
BC: that's not what XXX said.
Me: What XXX said or didn't say is has no effect on me, I haven't done anything illegal, and whatever he wants to say can't change that.
GC: we know you've been getting your shit from YYY, if you tell us what's going on with YYY, where he is, who he gets his shit from...we won't have to go in your house or anything...
Me: I don't know anything about YYY, in fact I barely know him at all, and I guarantee you that if you were to go into my house, which I will NOT submit to, you will find nothing.
Me: absolutely nothing. (at this point I accidentally scratched my nose with my one unchained hand)
BC: you'd better not be lying! this is our job, we're professionals, do you know what it means when you touch your face? it means you're lying... we're gonna go in there.
Me: I am aware what it means to you, it's a 'tell', but my nose itched, and you can't search my house based on that.
BC: we can search based on all the other shit!
Me: i think if you could legally search you would already be there wasting your time.
GC: we still might search.
Me: I will not consent to that, so if you do search you'd better get a warrant.
BC: (to GC) this kid thinks he's gonna be smart, fine.
*both cops then got up and started walking away.
BC: we're watching you, and we better not find anything...
GC: have a NICE LIFE.
I had to spend the night in jail for my battery charges anyway, so at this point I was tranferred to the local cops who did not question me further and were surprisingly polite. The state troopers tried to leave me thinking that they were going to search, but the next morning when I paid my bail I found out that they never even attempted it. Clearly they did not have the evidence they claimed. (Of course I already knew this when they were questioning me, but they seemed to really think I might be guilty and wanted me to sweat.)
It's easy to spot the tricks they used-- it wasn't even hard to spot at the time of my questioning-- the difference is that it's difficult to prepare yourself for the stress of interrogation, and even with my knowledge of interrogation techniques, I still made a stupid error by scratching my nose at the wrong time. One thing they did the entire time is the same as what all interrogators do-- looked straight into my eyes. When a professional interrogator conducts a session, he or she is looking for subtle signs of lying and misdirection.
For police officers, these signs are not legally permissable reasons to search your place or charge you for anything, but they will read these signs to tell when they are on the right track-- it is vital that a suspect not flinch, appear evasive, touch their face as they speak, look up or to the side as they recall information, etc... If an interrogator is trying to psych you out and detect lying by staring directly in your eyes as he speaks, stare RIGHT BACK, do not flinch, do not break eye contact and DENY EVERYTHING.
For pro interrogators, rapport is the name of the game-- they will try to lower your defenses and trip you up. In my case, the good cop would smile and speak with a far less threatening tone, while the bad cop would exaggerate his anger and frustration with me. The whole point is to pressure you into accepting the less threatening angle-- suspects do not confess to the bad cop, they confess to the good cop after the bad cop yells at them enough.
In the military, interrogators attempt to 'read' a detainee before beginning the session, to decide which angle will be most effective. One common technique is called 'ego up,' in which the interrogator will attempt to build an emotional rapport with the subject, make the subject feel as if the interrogator understands and respects him, and this will eventually lower the subject's defenses enough that he may talk-- often this will not work, however, and must be used in concert with other techniques-- eventually working to 'ego down,' which is the opposite-- the interrogators will degrade and insult the subject, demonstrate how worthless the subject is, and make him feel hopeless enough that it doesn't matter if he talks, so he does. If this doesn't work, however, it could be a brick wall, unless they get physical.
I saw these techniques in miniature form with the state troopers that questioned me. The important thing to remember, especially with law enforcement, is that the less threatening angle is the more dangerous one. Threats, intimidation, and rough language are usually only useful if they can lower your defenses, and if you are tough, they won't lower your defenses with that alone-- they are trying to trick you.
Clearly these state troopers tried to read me ahead of time, they saw my hairstyle and clothing, factored in whatever little secondhand information they had from narcs at our parties, and the narc probably told them that I spin techno records at my parties, so they calculated that there was a 90% chance that I smoke pot, and a 30-50% probability that I am somehow into x or acid.
In essence, they looked at me, looked at their info, and said, 'this guy probably smokes weed, and maybe he's into x and hallucinogens, so that's how we're gonna lean on him.' Conspicuously absent from their list of my crimes were meth, coke, speed, qualuudes, etc... because according to their profile, I didn't look like I was into those drugs. They pressured me based on what their FORMULA suggested would be most effective. From their perspective, if I was guilty of what I looked like I was guilty of (weed, acid, x), and they came into the room talking about my underground meth lab, I would known they were full of shit. The choice of drugs they yelled at me about was therefore predictable-- it followed the formula; who knows how many dumbasses have confessed to cops because they thought the game was up, when in fact there was no evidence and the cops merely had a good guess? Interrogations revolve around this kind of misdirection, don't be fooled.
Another trick they used, and this is EXTREMELY common, is to let you think that someone else connected to you has already given you up. This is ALMOST NEVER TRUE. In political science they have a name for this, it's called the 'prisoner's dilemma'.
In a nutshell the prisoner's dilemma is this: A and B are both questioned seperately for a crime. There is no evidence against either one, but they both know that if the other person gives them up, they will get a more severe penalty. Since neither A or B can trust the other, and they are both afraid of getting the most severe penalty, they will both confess, and both recieve a medium penalty, when in fact they would both have gotten off entirely if they had kept their freaking mouths shut. The fact of the matter is, if another person had actually given you up, the interrogator would probably not still be trying to get you to confess. They will argue that 'we know you did it, XXX said so, now make it easier on yourself and sign a confession, or let us search, and we'll work something out'.
This is always a trick. If they had an incriminating statement from someone that would hold up in court, they would not need you to admit anything, and they could search your house or possessions anyway. In the famous case of Susan Smith, who drowned her two children in 1994, the investigators had strong suspicions that Smith did it, she seemed evasive in questioning and had a questionable alibi about her children being kidnapped on a deserted streetcorner, but the investigators had no evidence. The investigators only got her to confess by lying to her about a drug sting with hidden cameras on that streetcorner. There were NO CAMERAS, the cops actually had no clue what really happened, but they suspected Smith of lying, so they simply said, 'we had cameras there, we know it didn't happen how you said it happened, so let's get this over with'. That was enough, she confessed, and now she's in prison. I'm glad the interrogation worked in her case, but cops will use those same techniques on anyone, anywhere, if they even guess you might be guilty of a crime.
Another thing they did in my case, and once again, this is common, is to put something they know is probably exaggerated on the table, to get you to lower your defenses about what they really want you to admit to. In my case, they knew that I never sold ecstasy or acid, but by making a big deal about it they thought they might get me to admit to the lesser crime of selling or smoking weed. It sounds stupid, but smart people fall for this. Everything an interrogator does is CALCULATED to make you admit to something eventually. They wanted me to admit to a far less serious crime so they could legally search my house, and from their perspective, even if they find nothing, I still admitted to a crime, I still get charged, and it's still a success on their records. And for all they knew, there was a chance, however small, of finding x or acid or WHATEVER, and then they would have stumbled into a serious bust, all because I tried to BARGAIN or weasel my way into a better deal.
At any rate, there are a few things to remember about this--
1. Professional interrogators are professional LIARS. Most local cops don't qualify as professional interrogators, but the rule is generally the same-- successful interrogations revolve around lies and misdirection, do not trust anything they say, even when it sounds good.
2. Professional interrogators are professional LIE DETECTORS. Do not think they won't see the signs. It takes effort, guts, and psychological nerve to look directly in a professional's eyes and say with complete certainty 'I did not do it'. But this is exactly what you have to do, and you must be convincing. If you are not, they will lean on your harder. Do not fidget, look away, lie unnecesarily, or appear unusually flustered or scared. If anything, you should radiate the image of a frustrated civilian who has been detained unnecessarily for a crime he/she knows nothing about.
3. Lawyer up ASAP. No matter what they say, you won't be penalized in court for getting a lawyer and refusing to talk to them. Ask for a lawyer as soon as possible, especially if they think they can intimidate you.
4. Talk to your 'partners' and be certain that you can trust them not to talk. It is important to eliminate this concern, it is an easy way for cops to coax a confession. In my case it didn't bother me since I knew they were full of shit anyway, but if you ARE up to something, be sure you won't be betrayed by a dumbass.
5. Don't fall asleep or look bored/tired before or after questioning, it's the guilty ones that relax after they've been arrested, an innocent person should look properly nervous and surprised that they are there.
6. If possible, and this is hard to prepare for... if you are guilty, get comfortable imagining that you are totally innocent. Lots of people get busted because their entire demeanor changes to 'guilty mode' when they know they're doing something against the law. They can say they are innocent, but they won't mean it. Cops, intelligence specialists, customs officals, border guards, DEA, etc... are all trained to recognize the subtle signs that someone is nervous about hiding something. The best way to hide something is to try to forget that you are hiding something, and act like you would normally. Project yourself to the place normal people are at when they interact with law enforcement- confident and self assured, perhaps slightly confused or nervous about being asked questions, but not overly disturbed that they are interacting with a cop. Cooperate to the extent that any normal person would, interact to the extent that any normal person would, and don't incriminate yourself.
Obviously the best way to be convincing is to be innocent of any crime. But with the drug war still in full swing, a lot of otherwise responsible citizens are guilty by technicality, and those are the ones I hope this report will benefit.
stay out of trouble,
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