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A Longtime Police Interrogation Tactic Loses Its Appeal

You may not know the Reid Method of police interrogation by name, but it’s likely you have seen the technique in action in movies or on TV. The strategy involves lengthy questioning sessions that feature a confrontational approach and frequently include claims of evidence (whether or not it actually exists) to pressure a suspect into confessing.

The Reid Method has been used by law enforcement across the U.S. for decades, which is why it was somewhat surprising when Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, one of the nation’s leading providers of training for law enforcement organizations, recently announced it will no longer offer training in the Reid Method.

The High Risk of False Confessions

Shane Sturman, president and CEO of Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates (often referred to as WZ), says evidence indicating the Reid Method increases the risk of getting false confessions is behind the decision to stop offering training on the procedure. In fact, Sturman says many of their law enforcement clients requested the move.

"Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information," Sturman said. “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."

As Sturman explains, confrontation is not an effective means of getting truthful information. The Reid Method has remained the same over 50 or more years, while law enforcement has evolved significantly. Pressuring suspects and pushing them into a defensive state of mind is no longer viewed as desirable. The company will instead train law enforcement officials on a non-confrontational method of interrogation.

Why People Confess To Crimes They Didn’t Commit

False confessions are a bigger problem than many outside of law enforcement realize. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 13 percent of 1,810 exonerations in the U.S. since 1989 involved men or women who falsely confessed to a crime. Nearly three-fourths of those were homicides that carried significant prison sentences.

A 2016 Newsweek story states these exoneration statistics understate the problem of false confessions because studies show that many more false confessions do not result in conviction, while others that do result in conviction are not exonerated.

Two categories of people are most susceptible to false confessions – young suspects and those with mental disabilities. In the past, people who are interviewed by police without a lawyer or a parent present succumb to the pressure and provide a story they believe the police want to hear, whether true or not. Often, a suspect believes he or she will receive favorable treatment if they cooperate with authorities and implicate others in a crime.

“The goal of any interviewer should be to identify the truth,” states a message on the WZ website. “Unfortunately, investigators have sometimes felt pressure to obtain a confession or may have biases based on the investigation that direct their focus on the wrong subject. Our mission at WZ is to provide investigators with a variety of tools to obtain truthful, reliable information as a part of their investigation.”

Although it is a positive sign that the Reid Method will no longer be part of the WZ curriculum, it would be foolish to believe that high-pressure interrogation tactics will disappear completely from police practices. If you are questioned by police in connection with a crime, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney before answering any questions. In Nebraska, McGough Law has earned a stellar reputation for providing effective defense in a wide range of criminal cases.

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