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Faculty Research Spotlight

Laure Brimbal - School of Criminal Justice and Criminology

Centering Ethics in Research on Law Enforcement Interview Techniques

"We are collaborating with law enforcement agencies to inform our framework with both practitioner and interview subject perspectives."

Dr. Laure Brimbal
Dr. Laure Brimbal

Research on law enforcement interview techniques began with a focus on false confessions. Studies looked at techniques that could lead to false confessions and asked why using such techniques might result in miscarriages of justice. Much of this research focused on problematic interviewing strategies used by law enforcement, typically referred to as “accusatorial,” and what not to do in an interview room. Researchers brought up ethical concerns that these techniques are coercive and might not lead to accurate information.

Over a decade ago, research began to emerge looking at the other side of the question: If law enforcement does not use an accusatorial approach, how should officers ethically and effectively interview witnesses, suspects, and victims? My research fits into this second category. I develop and test ethical and effective interview techniques and train officers to use them. This is often referred to as an information gathering, rapport-based approach.

Much research has supported this shift in approaches, showing that an information gathering, rapport-based approach is effective in eliciting actionable information from guilty suspects and accurately distinguishing between those who are innocent and guilty. From the practitioner perspective, a rapport-based framework is often considered too “soft” and incapable of providing the tools necessary to effectively overcome resistance (i.e., unwillingness to cooperate with an interviewer), an issue encountered all too often in the interview room. This is problematic, as it presents a considerable barrier to an investigator’s willingness to implement evidence-based interviewing practices that are otherwise ethical and effective. Yet, research has generally failed to consider critical questions such as what is resistance in an interview setting and how can an interviewer reliably and constructively overcome resistance within a rapport-based model?

Field evaluation of an evidence-based training
Field evaluation of an evidence-based training

With my FBI-funded research and in partnership with Iowa State University researchers, we are developing a framework to understand resistance and how to overcome it within an ethically-minded interview framework. We are collaborating with law enforcement agencies to inform our framework with both practitioner and interview subject perspectives. Once developed, we will systematically test the framework’s validity and whether we can create tools to mitigate resistance from interview subjects through experimental and quasi-experimental laboratory and field studies. We will also test our framework by training investigators to understand motivations for resistance and how to address those during an interview.

This project will help fill a gap in research and practice as it will provide practitioners with tools to mitigate resistance, gain cooperation from resistant subjects, and ultimately gather reliable information, while avoiding false confessions that can lead to wrongful convictions.