If you're really interested in getting good
information from your debriefings of those you
arrest, I'd suggest the following:
1. Keep yourself familiar with the details of all
serious crimes committed in your district/precinct.
2. Keep contact information for investigative units
and individual investigators.
3. Target drug addicts for arrest to enhance the
probability of obtaining maximum amounts of useful
information for the time expended.
Let's look at these suggestions individually:
Number 1. If you don't know the details of crimes,
how are you going to ask questions? Some police
officers may simply ask, "Do you know about any
crimes in the area?" The suspect answers, "Na, I
don't know noth'in." End of debriefing.
Another officer, thoroughly familiar with all crime
activity is going to engage the suspect in
conversation at length. The officer is not going to
be arrogant or overbearing. The conversation is
going to be two way with the officer constantly
evoking responses from the suspect. As the officer
asks questions about different incidents and players
in the area, the suspect may well at some point ask,
"What's in it for me?"
Number 2. Developing valuable information doesn't
do a lot of good; unless, it gets to the right place.
Let's say your suspect has expressed a willingness
to provide information on a homicide to secure his
release from your arrest. First, he expects to be
interviewed by a detective. Remember, drug addicts
watch television too. The information he's provided
thus far has convinced you – from your knowledge
of the homicide in question – that your suspect has
good and relevant information about the homicide.
Your ability to quickly get your suspect face to face
with an appropriate investigator will result in
maximum results for your efforts.
If your goal at some point in your career is to
become a detective, there's no better way for you
to introduce yourself to your department's
investigative units than to bring them witnesses
that possess good information. The more the
better. However, always make certain that you only
provide investigators with potential witnesses that
you're convinced can provide relevant information.
You want investigators to come to know you as
knowledgeable, reliable and conscientious...not a
Number 3. You might wonder why I would
recommend drug addicts as sources of reliable
information. First, as I stated earlier, they're always
on the street and ever present in areas of high
crime. Secondly, they are extremely reliable.
However, their level of cooperativeness and
reliability depends upon when you get them. The
right time is not a hard thing to accomplish. If you
arrest a suspect for possession of drugs, the fact
that he's still in possession of the drug means he
needs his fix soon. While you might think a 24
hour stay in a lock-up would not be a big deal for a
drug addict, you'd be wrong. Even though you
would consider his stay for processing and
subsequent release on the minor charge as short,
that 24 hours will be an eternity for the drug addict
deprived of his drug. He'd much rather spend a few
hours telling an investigator everything he knows
about anything to secure an earlier release.
Any successes you achieve in debriefing people you
arrest will depend solely upon the skills you develop
as an interviewer. Remember, you just arrested the
person, so you're not going to be all that popular
with that person. However, good interviewing skills
will trump that disadvantage every time; unless,
your arrestee is really pissed off with you. In those
instances where there's clearly no rapport to be
established, just get another, equally skilled officer,
to debrief your arrest.
Don't ever forget...police work is about solving
crimes and catching bad guys, and information is
the life blood of that endeavor.
You'll soon learn, particularly in a police department
of any size, that police officers have little interest in
developing information outside their areas of
expertise. Drug enforcement is particularly
susceptible to this phenomenon. When you begin
your career as a patrol officer, you'll see patrol
officers who make large numbers of drug/cds
arrests. You'll also notice that the total number of
arrests those officers make are almost exclusively
arrests for drug distribution or possession; even
though, patrol is fertile ground for all kinds of
Realizing that my efforts would take some time –
through a like thinking sergeant in the department's
homicide unit – I was able to arrange the
temporary, though full time, assignment of a
homicide detective to my unit. For the next eight
months, that detective debriefed/interviewed every
misdemeanor drug and prostitution arrest made
during his tour of duty. The outcome was
dramatic. The homicide detective identified 18
eyewitnesses to 13 separate homicides. That was
just the best part. He uncovered a ton of other
information; for instance: a prostitute riding in a car
with two men while she listened to the passenger
describe to the driver, in detail, a drug related
murder he'd recently committed.
While impressed, I wasn't surprised. Drug users
see and hear everything. They're constantly on the
street seeking their drugs of choice, and they
frequently witness serious crimes. What was really
impressive about the eight month undertaking was
the process developed. If one investigator – in one
police district – could produce such success, just
think what nine investigators over the city's nine
police districts could produce. I distributed the
results widely, and I did get one comment from the
department's Chief of Patrol, "Impressive." But...
that's as far as it went. While disappointed in the
worse than limited response, again, I wasn't
The project did have the desired effect on the
officers in my vice unit. They would go on to
develop, database and distribute tons of useful
information, from the arrests and debriefings of
prostitutes, to relevant recipients. As for the drug
enforcement unit, that same level of interest and
production never materialized.
You might wonder why the officers in the drug unit
didn't follow the lead of the vice unit? The answer
is simple. The sergeant of the vice unit became a
believer in the process; the sergeant of the drug
unit did not. While the drug enforcement officers
would intensely debrief regarding drug distribution
information, they had no interest in digging for
information on other crimes. Now...you might ask
why I didn't replace the drug unit sergeant with a
supervisor who would show more interest in
pleasing his lieutenant? First, one does not replace
a sergeant who is supervising the most productive
drug enforcement unit in the entire police
department, and secondly, the officers in the drug
unit wouldn't even be there if they didn't have that
"Drug Bug" phenomenon I referred to earlier.
While I would strongly encourage you to start
developing your debriefing skills right from the
beginning, as a patrol officer, you'll be limited in the
time you have to corroborate information a suspect
gives you, before you book and charge the
suspect. Remember, any time a person you arrest
is willing to provide you information, that person is
looking for a "get of jail free card."
"Don't ever forget...police work is about
solving crimes and catching bad guys, and
information is the life blood of that endeavor."
~ Barry M. Baker
You'll probably hear a lot about the importance of
interviewing people you arrest regarding any
relevant information they may possess about other
crimes. Arrest debriefings can be extremely
valuable in developing useful information; however,
the way the interviews are conducted; documented
and processed means everything. If your
department has no formalized process in place for
conducting the interviews; documenting and
tracking the information developed, the usefulness
of your debriefings will have limited success.
In 1998, I was a special operations lieutenant where
I had my district's drug and vice enforcement units
under my command. I had directed the officers in
both units to debrief all their arrests for information
regarding crimes other than drug distribution or
vice related activities. Homicides and robberies
were at the top of the list.
Easier said than done.
|Copyright © 2018 Barry M. Baker