Security officers conduct interviews as a part of their routine duties, whether gathering information about potential threats to their facilities, or gathering information about an alleged criminal incident. Following are a few tips to help you get the most out of your interviews:
1. Start by introducing yourself to the individual - "I'm Officer Herring. I need to gather some information about what occurred and I hope you can help me." Introducing yourself puts the individual at ease. Letting them know you need their help let's them become a part of the solution. (I had a relative that witnessed a robbery years ago. She always starts the story with, "The officers asked for my help. We caught them within a few minutes." Know she didn't help make the arrest, but by the officers action she felt she did.)
2. Allow the person to tell their "story" - When someone witnesses an incident they formulate what they saw in their mind. Start the interview with an open-ended question such as; "Tell me what happened." Allow them time to talk, get their story out.
3. Follow-up by providing them with an overview of what they told you - "Ok, from what you told me I understand that....". This allows you to confirm the information you are receiving. It allows the individual an opportunity to correct information that may have been misunderstood or left out. Also, when the individual hears what you believe they have told you, it prompts them to remember additional details.
4. Ask them to walk through or diagram the scene - When possible, ask them to walk you through the incident. Have them show you where they were standing, where the others involved were standing. This provides you with a replay of the incident. If they say they saw the individual strike another person, ask them to demonstrate how the person did it. This also prompts additional memories and provides you with a clearer picture of what occurred.
5. Don't shortcut the interview - Resist the urge to cut someone off and ask specific questions. Allow them to talk. Often witnesses to an incident need to "think out loud" about what they witnessed. This helps them recall the incident while allowing you the opportunity to identify discrepancies. NOTE: There are times you need specific information in a hurry, such as; a suspect description where the suspect has just fled the scene. Let them know you will talk with them further to gather additional information.
6. Expect witnesses to a stressful incident to "jump around" when they are relaying what they saw - Stress causes an individual to piece information together in random ways. For example; a witness to a robbery may provide you the following statement; "It was a big gun. They came in the door and they seemed to be angry. He took it out of his pocket and pointed it at the clerk. The clerk knew them when they came in, before they pulled the gun. Or it seemed that he did. They yelled at everyone to get out. I saw them walking across the parking lot but didn't see a gun. Seemed odd at the time. I just didn't know."
7. Move to safety - Whenever you are interviewing someone, make sure the scene is safe. When possible, move to an area out of sight and out of hearing range of others. As an officer you are required to take risks. The person you are interviewing is not.
As an officer you are required to gather accurate and complete information. Take some time to allow the individual to talk and you will gather the information that you need.
Member of the Guardstar Academy Staff. All Guardstar Academy staff are experienced law enforcement, security professionals and/or private investigators.