If you're really interested in getting good
information from your debriefings of
those you arrest, I'd suggest the

1.  Keep yourself familiar with the details
of all serious crimes committed in your

2.  Keep contact information for
investigative units and individual

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

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

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
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

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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