4 investigative interview methods that create a dialogue and solve retail crime cases

NRF PROTECT: Mapping a strategic approach to gaining actionable information
Sheryll Poe
NRF Contributor

The world of retail security has changed, which means investigative interviews need to change as well.

“We are wearing more than theft and fraud hats these days,” Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates President and Partner David Thompson told attendees at the NRF PROTECT conference and expo at Cleveland’s Huntington Convention Center.  “You’ve got sexual harassment investigations, workplace violence, discrimination, bullying, fraternization — we’ve got all these different issues we have to investigate.”

Investigators need to move to a “more informed, strategic approach” to investigative interviews, Thompson said during “Strategizing the investigative Interview: Not a one-size-fits-all approach” with International Association of Interviewers Executive Director Tony Paixão.


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The goal of the interview has changed from getting a confession to getting as much actionable information as possible to assist in the investigation, according to Thompson and Paixão. “My early interviewing career, I would get the initial call or report, and my first thought was to pray: ‘I hope I can get someone to tell me they did it,’” Thompson said.

Times have changed. Now investigators need high-level approaches and methods to conduct a successful investigative interview.

Flexible interview strategies in action

The two went over four primary interview methods based on evidence-based techniques, including fact-gathering interviews, participatory interviews, Wicklander-Zulawski method interviews and cognitive interviews. Each method is meant to bring out the most information to further the investigation along.

“As a part of the investigation, we need those details, those actionable pieces of information to make an informed decision as to what we’re going to do next,” Paixão said. “Strategizing our interview is the first step in making sure we can put ourselves in the best position to get the most amount of that information.”

Knowing when to employ which interview style depends on several factors, including the subject and their relationship and reaction to the instigating event, as well as the evidence and stage of the investigation. In most investigations, interviewers will have to employ each of the interview methods at certain points.

Retail loss prevention

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To demonstrate, Thompson and Paixão took attendees through a recent real case involving an armed robbery at a store. As they went through the interviews of primary suspects — sales associate Chelsea and store manager Shane — they demonstrated how to strategize and adapt the interview techniques to extract as many details as possible without contaminating the memory of the person being interviewed, or, even worse, putting the subject on the defensive.

Throughout the process, Thompson and Paixão explained, interviewers need to strategize and structure questions to create a dialogue and prepare for any plausible explanations that could be offered up by the subject or as an explanation for the evidence the investigator has gathered.

“Everything we talk about today is the way the industry is going forward,” said Thompson. Interview standards are evolving, and security professionals need to constantly be challenging and evaluating their techniques.

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