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.
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 arrests.
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 surprised.
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."
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
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 nuisance.
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
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