Police Professionalism in Interviews with High Value Detainees: Cross-Cultural Endorsement of Procedural Justice

By Goodman-Delahunty, Jane; O'Brien, Kate et al. | Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Police Professionalism in Interviews with High Value Detainees: Cross-Cultural Endorsement of Procedural Justice


Goodman-Delahunty, Jane, O'Brien, Kate, Gumbert-Jourjon, Thea, Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies


Procedural fairness has received widespread attention in policing but is under-researched in investigative interviews. In simulated interviews in the laboratory, authorities were more focussed on just outcomes than fair processes, but little research has been conducted in the field to examine practices regarding procedural fairness and variations in different cultures and jurisdictions. This study examined these issues in a sample of experienced police and military practitioners in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. In semi-structured interviews probing effective practices, 123 practitioners with expertise in criminal investigative and HUMINT interviews described the strategies they used to (a) build rapport; (b) elicit reliable information; and (c) achieve interview goals. Responses to these questions were coded by trained raters for the importance of four procedural justice components: respectful treatment, trust, neutrality and voice. Consensus emerged on the importance of procedural fairness to establish rapport, secure reliable information and achieve interview objectives. The majority of practitioners endorsed strategies respectful of suspect rights and police trustworthiness; less priority was accorded to interviewee voice and police neutrality. Differences in emphasis on voice and neutrality emerged between jurisdictions in relation to cultures High versus Low in Context and cultural variations in individualism, power-distance and uncertainty avoidance. Examples are cited reflecting police professionalism that employs procedural justice to enhance interviewing expertise and police legitimacy.

Reports of abusive interrogation methods such as those at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have damaged police reputations in many jurisdictions. In part, this public controversy has been fuelled by the lack of transparency about police procedures (Bradford, Jackson & Hough, 2014; Schafer, 2013) and interview methods (Dixon, 2010). In some jurisdictions, in cases that have proceeded to court, evidence gathered using coercive methods has been excluded, diminishing public trust and confidence in law enforcement officers (e.g., Nolan, 2009). Although most police and military interviewers receive training in rapport-building, harsh treatment of suspected violent extremists and other high value detainees may be exacerbated by cultural differences and retributive motives (Carlsmith & Sood, 2009), leading to use of interrogation strategies that are counterproductive and culturally ineffective. Research has repeatedly shown that suspects who have experienced physical abuse during interrogations are more likely to make false confessions (Leo, Constanzo, & ShakedShroer, 2009), which reduced public confidence in the criminal justice system. Mistreatment of suspects during interviews results in loss of perceived legitimacy of police, and diminishes community cooperation and support (Roberts, 2011). Accordingly, law enforcement agencies and police practitioners are motivated to identify interview techniques that are effective, but do not involve torture or lead to inadmissible evidence and public controversy (Borum, Gelles & Kleinman, 2009). Yet little is known about practitioner views on effective interview methods and strategies and the extent of consensus between jurisdictions. Whether less controversial methods are in fact more widely used and perceived as effective is a topic that has remained unaddressed, as has the extent to which cultural differences may influence the use and perception of different methods. The current study sought information from seasoned interviewers from a variety of cultural backgrounds about strategies and methods of interrogation that they regarded as effective.

In a systematic review of research on police interviewing, Meissner, Redlich, Bhatt, and Brandon (2012) examined studies that compared the efficacy of accusatorial (guilt-presumptive) vs. information-gathering interview methods in eliciting confessions. …

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