Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

Police Training Firm Dumps Interrogation Technique Linked To Multiple False Confessions

from the curbing-liability dept

There may be a significant shift in police interrogation methods over the next several years. The Marshall Project reports one of the nation’s largest police consulting firms is abandoning a technique that has been used by a majority of law enforcement agencies over the last six decades. It’s called the Reid Technique, and it’s been linked to a large number of false confessions. But after fifty-plus years of religious reliance on the technique, the consulting firm says it’s no longer going to be training officers to deploy it.

Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, a consulting group that says it has worked with a majority of U.S. police departments, said Monday it will stop training detectives in the method it has taught since 1984.

“Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information,” said Shane Sturman, the company’s president and CEO. “This was a big move for us, but it’s a decision that’s been coming for quite some time. More and more of our law enforcement clients have asked us to remove it from their training based on all the academic research showing other interrogation styles to be much less risky.”

It should have been viewed as risky from the beginning. The technique, first deployed in 1955 by a police polygraph expert named John Reid, uses nine steps to push arrestees towards confessions. It relies in part on officers making judgment calls on body language, when not encouraging them to directly lie to arrested subjects. The thing about the Reid Technique is that the first deployment in 1955, by Reid himself, secured a false confession. This resulted in a state supreme court decision tossing out the suspect’s conviction on the basis the false confession had been coerced.

Despite this inauspicious start, the Reid Technique has remained popular pretty much everywhere, even as confessions secured with the technique are frequently proven to be false. Given its creator was deeply fond of polygraph testing, it should come as no surprise the confessions elicited by the technique would be dubious at best.

The company behind the technique claims it’s still as useful as ever, if not even better given recent, unspecified “updates.”

Joseph P. Buckley, the president of John E. Reid & Associates, which licenses the Reid method, said Wednesday that Wicklander-Zulawski’s announcement was “very misleading and disingenuous.” He said the technique has consistently held up in court and that it is not “confrontational” except when evidence already suggests the suspect’s guilt.

The technique relies on confrontation. It relies on officers lying about the amount of evidence they’ve gathered, making false claims about admissions from conspirators, or simply refusing to believe anything an arrestee says unless it agrees with their predetermined conclusions. It’s a terrible system but it’s been in use for years and no one’s in a hurry to let it go — especially when convictions and plea deals go on the immediate bottom line. Exonerations — if and when they happen — are years or decades down the road. They’re someone else’s problem on someone else’s criminal justice ledger.

The sad thing is the Reid Technique was better than the interrogation technique it replaced: violent beatings. But all it did was shift the violence from the front of the house to back of the house, replacing beatings with a large number of easily-avoidable false confessions. After decades of ruined lives, a major player in law enforcement training has decided it’s no longer interested in making police officers worse. That’s a huge step forward.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Police Training Firm Dumps Interrogation Technique Linked To Multiple False Confessions”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

On the other hand, why bother training cops for interrogation if the current SOP is to shoot anyone under flimsy pretexts of feeling that their life is in danger? It’s not as though the cop would be terribly penalized afterwards, and there’s always a MyNameHere to staunchly defend him for his actions. (“That mobile phone looked like a gun!” “That fleeing man’s spine looked like a lethal weapon!” “He raised his hands in the air like I asked, of course I had to shoot him! I was afraid!”)

Dead perps, suspects, and bystanders tell no tales…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Fuck these people that have not helped.. upton is quoted a lot but he never did anything or changed anything it’s a love me I’m a liberal thing to say(meaning I’m a religious fucktard mostly, phil ochs knew what you people where really about).

stop allowing it stop allowing cops and prosecutors to lie.

full stop

If you cannot convict someone on actual facts or very convincing circumstance STOP, because it becomes not prosecution it becomes persecution, no society that has any value can be constructed on persecution ever.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“upton is quoted a lot but he never did anything or changed anything”

Oh, really? 5 seconds of research:


“In 1906, Sinclair acquired particular fame for his classic muck-raking novel The Jungle, which exposed labor and sanitary conditions in the U.S. meatpacking industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.[1]”

There’s other examples.

“If you cannot convict someone on actual facts or very convincing circumstance STOP, because it becomes not prosecution it becomes persecution”

Unless you changed the subject of your rant halfway through, you appear to have completely misunderstood or misrepresented the meaning of Sinclair’s quote. Perhaps instead of whining about “liberals” you should understand what is being written?

Anonymous Coward says:

reading between the lines ...

The main reason why the Reid Technique worked (when it worked) was because decades ago people were much more gullible and authority-worshipping than today, and actually believed that police were among the most honest and trustworthy people that existed. So the possibility that they were being lied to by the cops didn’t even enter into their head.

Now that cops are seen by the public as the lying, conniving, self-serving people that they really are, the textbook tactic of tricking suspects into confessing (falsely or not) in the interrogation room by lying to them is naturally going to be a much less effective technique, because suspects these days already *KNOW* that they’re probably being lied to by the cops.

That’s the real reason why the Reid Technique is being abandoned. It’s not over concerns about its abusiveness, but because people today are much less easily fooled than in the past.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: reading between the lines ...

He meant real confessions. It worked (debatable) in yesteryear on guilty people because they believed the police had them red-handed. Those same guilty people today now know to keep their mouth shut until they get a lawyer, so it no longer works the way it was intended. It’s ONLY use today is false confessions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Something I’ve never understood is why the victims of police abuse don’t sue the companies that train police to be abusive.

It seems that the one thing that exonerates a trigger-happy cop of killing an unarmed innocent person, is whether or not he was following established procedure, and hence justified to take the life of an innocent person. So if anything it is the police procedures that are the guilty party, whether its shoot-to-kill rules or abusive interrogation techniques that draw false confessions.

But the for-profit companies that create these procedures and train cops in their use never seem to get nailed when they are ostensibly the liable party. Why is it that it’s always the police (and hence the taxpayers) who get sued and pay out through the nose rather than these lucrative companies that are the very source of the problem?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

… why the victims of police abuse don’t sue the companies that train police…

Some of them are in jail.
Most of them cannot sustain the cost of a lawsuit, jail or no.

And as with the Juggalos case recently, just because someone tells the police something, doesn’t mean the court will assign them liability when the police act upon that information. So the odds of winning are minimal.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Years ago...

…Friday and Webb (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) came to my flat and interviewed me about an act of political vandalism they suspected me of committing.

I wasn’t really a vandalism sort even then. (Though I’ve endorsed sabotage.) But at the end, when it was clear I was not going to confess, they told me they had videos of me doing it.

I said that’s impossible as I wasn’t ever at the scene of the crime, let alone there to engage in mischief. The videos must be of someone else.

Friday and Webb took their hats, bid me good day and I never saw them again.

Is that the technique? Lying about evidence and confronting people like it’s the end of a Law & Order episode?

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

_More and more of our law enforcement clients have asked us to remove it from their training based on all the academic research showing other interrogation styles to be much less risky.”_

This is one of the bits i found quite interesting.

Another point, i suppose, would have been for such client departments to refuse to pay for and attend such sessions. A whole other thing is, why the hell has so much been farmed out for so long anyway?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...