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Interviewing Victims and Witnesses of Crime

NCJ Number
Psychology Volume: blic Policy Issue: Dated: Pages: 1-764
R P Fisher
Date Published
33 pages

This article suggests methods to enhance eyewitness information by improving the quality of the police interview process.


The recommended interview strategy involves a two-pronged approach: the elimination of interviewing techniques that militate against witness recollection and the introduction of other techniques that enhance recollection. In order to explain why the recommended techniques are effective and also why some currently used interviewing techniques are ineffective, the author describes the major underlying psychological processes that mediate witness recollection. These pertain primarily to the cognitive processes involved in memory retrieval, the social influences in a two-person group composed of interviewer and interviewee, and the communication difficulties associated with witnesses' converting mental representations into detailed statements. Recommendations for eliminating the sources of incorrect interviewing procedures are based in the author's belief that interviewing errors are caused primarily by police interviewer's motivational biases and by the structural properties of the police system. Motivational biases tend to stem from the interviewer's belief that a particular suspect is the guilty party, such that the questions asked of a witness are designed to confirm the interviewer's conviction. The aim of the interview should be to obtain the most complete and accurate information possible from the witness, even if it exonerates the prime suspect. Further, several factors that contribute to the lack of police interviewing skills can be traced to the police system itself. These factors include the inadequacy of interviewer training, the value placed on aggressive personal style, and the nature of advancement within the police system. The positive steps that can be taken to improve police interviewing fall into the two traditional areas of organizational improvement: better training and more efficient use of personnel. 100 references