An investigator’s approach to family members must be one of total respect and understanding. Your approach and attitude must be above normal standards in these types of interviews. Your attitude and demeanor upon the first contact will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. This includes the officers that arrived on the scene first. If you have to talk with family or even witnesses, hours or days later, you can be sure the attitude of the officers on the scene during the initial call will be a factor in the cooperation you will get today.
Find your empathetic side. Keep in mind the information these family members give might send their loved one to prison. You are going to have to gain their trust, and show concern and empathy to these people. But also keep in mind that family will sometimes lie!
When you first make contact and after introducing yourself and explaining why you are speaking to them, get all contact information – Be sure you can find them later!
- Full name including nicknames and street names
- Gang affiliations
- Address and phone number including house and cell (verify cell while there – call it)
- Email address
- Employer – name, and address
- Occupation in case they change employers
- Closest relative name and contact information
After you have gathered all contact information, ask your questions in an organized manner and let them tell you their story their way. Do not interrupt or correct at this point. Once they are done you can go back and use the cognitive interview approach discussed earlier and achieve more clarity to their statements
Be sure to get something before you leave. Their handwritten statement is best, but at the very least be sure you have taken good notes during the cognitive questioning process.
Interviewing family of a decedent
If you are talking with a family member of a decedent, be sympathetic to their situation. Be real, this could be you someday. When possible, have them sit down. The kitchen table is best if available, create a relaxed non-threatening environment. Never use police jargon or talk “police speak” – talk to them like a normal person.
If talking about a deceased family member, never refer to the dead as “the deceased” or “the body”. Call the deceased by their name. Offer support to the person you are talking to but be careful never to say things like:
- I know how you feel – (no you don’t)
- They are in a better place
- At least they aren’t suffering any longer
- She’s with the angels now
- Never make religious or cultural statements in an attempt to comfort them.
Simply be empathic and show support for their situation. Treat them as you would want an investigator treating your spouse, child, or parents.