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 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 endeavor.
Debriefing
Arrests
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."
"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 © 2015  Barry M. Baker  
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