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A field study of adult witness interviewing practices in a Canadian police organization

Authors


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Brent Snook, Psychology Department, Science Building, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, Nfld, Canada A1B 3X9 (e-mail: bsnook@play.psych.mun.ca).

Abstract

Purpose. The current study examined witness interviewing practices in a Canadian police organization. The effect of interviewer, interviewee, and interview characteristics on those practices was also examined.

Method. Ninety witness interviews from a Canadian police organization were coded for the following interviewing practices: types of questions asked (i.e. open-ended, probing, closed-ended, clarification, multiple, leading, opinion/statement, and re-asked), the number of interruptions, percentage of words spoken by interviewer, type of pre-interview instructions (consequential vs. generic), and whether or not a free narrative was requested (and when requested during the interview). Characteristics pertaining to the interviewer (e.g. primary interviewer's age), interviewee (e.g. witness gender), and interview (e.g. crime type) were also coded.

Results. Results showed that closed-ended and probing questions were the most widely asked questions, and that open-ended questions were asked relatively infrequently. It was also found that the 80–20 talking rule was violated in 89% of the interviews, interviewers rarely interrupted the witnesses, and free narratives were requested often. Overall, the effect of interviewer, interview, or interviewee characteristics on interviewing practices was minimal.

Conclusions. The finding that scientifically prescribed interviewing practices are employed rarely by Canadian police officers highlights a need for increased professional interviewing training. The finding that practices are largely unaffected by personal and situational factors suggests that such training would be equally beneficial for all types of interviewers, interviewees, and contexts.

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