Friday, July 15, 2011

Talk to Me

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

How to get a reluctant witness to talk? Are rubber hoses and bright lights out? Actually, since my virulent opposition to all parts of the war powers act that treat the Geneva Convention restrictions on use of physical force in interrogations as "quaint," I'm going to stick with my personal convictions and stick to the intellectual approach. Mom would be proud. She always said 'Violence was the tool of the ignorant. It's used by those people not smart enough to find a better way and I'd better not ever hear you're one of them.

So, as Poirot would say, I need to use the little gray cells to get what I need. There are two things I have to really consider before I have the conversation. What information might the witness have and why won't they talk. to me. Now, I have to be careful I don't fall into the trap of thinking I know what they have to say before they say it because frankly, people will surprise you. I might think my witness saw my murderer but maybe she heard someone hire the actual shooter. Or her information might be tangential -- she saw a fight earlier in the day, she knows my victim ruined my suspect's new shoes or her hatchet is mysteriously missing from her handbag. Not knowing exactly what my witness might have to say can be turned to my advantage. I need to start getting her talking about anything. In another interviewer this would be called building rapport. In my case, let's just say I've got to pretend I've got people skills.

If I'm going to ask questions, I'll start with easy, no reason not to answer open-ended questions about the witness. Most people love to talk about themselves and any reluctance can give way to a natural desire to be the center of attention especially if none of the conversation is directly about whatever she might know or why she doesn't want to talk about it? The conversation might go something like this:

Me: Wow, that was pretty scary. My heart's still racing. What about you? Are you okay?

Witness: Fine.

Me: Want me to walk you over to the ambulance? You're a little pale. Are you sure you're okay? (A touch on the arm might work here. I don't know why but gentle, casual physical contact frequently makes people think you care about them. Of course, if she flinches away, you might have a clue as to her reluctance to talk. Either way, you've learned something valuable).

Witness: No, really, I'm okay. (From one word to four. Progress).

Me: I'm so glad I was around the corner when it happened. Oh, gosh, I'm sorry. You were right here, weren't you? I'm sorry you had to see that. It must have been horrible. (I've built in an assumption about her location and possible witness value without making it a question. Whatever she says, whether she denies it or just lets it go, I've learned something. I've also stuck with conversation over interrogation. And a conversation where my witness is the star player).

Witness: I seen worse.

(So I've confirmed she is a witness but she doesn't seem like a suspect so I can continue to "chat" with her without identifying myself if I am in an official capacity. I never have to identify myself if I'm private. I let her make an assumption about me (I was nearby) and she didn't question it. This is handy).

Me: You're kidding. This is as close as I want to be to something like this. You're so calm. I'd be totally freaked out if, well, anything like this happened right in front of me like that. (Giving my witness a chance to be superior to me). How are you doing it?

Witness: It's just another dead banger.

Me: (She knows the identity of the victim. And she appears to be a witness to the actual killing.)

Witness: In this neighborhood, you 'bout get one every day. Only time the police come is to pick up the bodies.

Me: I just moved here from Iowa. (Another little white one with Iowa being the center of I don't know anything about the big city). The lady I'm renting from told me this was a safe neighborhood.

Witness: Raised eyebrows, hands on hips, elevator eye roll.

Me: I've never actually met her. I rented online. (Dumb as a post and just the sort of person a street hardened woman might want to give a clue.)

Witness: Well, let me me tell you, this block belongs to them. They want you dead. You're dead. You see somebody's making his bones with a sprayer, you get the hell down.

Me: (Translation: the witness saw who fired the shots, knows him or at least what gang he is affiliated with, he's knew to the gang making him likely younger and her probably fear is for talking in a gang neighborhood. This makes her a useful witness who might not want to testify for fear of reprisal).

Witness: You ask a lot of questions.

Me: (Uh oh. Her radar just went off. I need to preserve the relationship for later and since I've got some facts to work from and her resistence, if I'm right about the no snitchng thing is probably my biggest obstacle, I'm going to back off). Nothing like this ever happens in Iowa.

Witness: (Turns away). Uh huh.

An interrogation yielding useful information from a reluctant witness and all that was required was me playing was me playing blonde. I don't know why the Gitmo guys haven't figured this out.

Thanks for reading.



Meredith Cole said...

Apparently with interrogation (as with most interactions in life) you can catch more flies with honey than with a rubber hose (or water board). I like your sleuth's "blonde" technique, Gabi.

Gabi said...

You're funny, Meredith, since neither of us is the least bit blonde in hair color or 'tude. Worse, red hair is pretty much a billboard for 'Avoid me, I'm trouble.' You, on the other hand, have actual people skills and the nice friendly smile. You'll get the 4-1-1 without ever having to "wig" it.