When we first started to provide interview training to Europe in 2009, we were surprised to find that the process of obtaining a voluntary statement from a subject following the interview was not a common practice. The majority view seemed to be that police wouldn’t take it. While this may be true of those criminal-related issues you investigate and interview for, there is still great value in having the written statement as an internal document. Imagine showing up to a formal works council or disciplinary track hearing with a handwritten, voluntary statement provided by the subject of your investigation. It could be a priceless piece of your investigation.
The final voluntary statement is representative of the admissions made during the interview. It is essential that it be as detailed as possible, containing the elements of the crime or policy violation and clearly substantiating the employee’s admission or wrongdoing.
Voluntary Statement Format
Depending on the organization’s preferences, the final statement could take a number of different forms.
Narrative. The narrative statement is generally a handwritten document prepared by the employee detailing his or her admission or voluntary confession. The narrative statement is often called a letter of explanation and has the form and appearance of a letter.
Question and Answer. The question-answer statement contains the question asked by the interviewer followed by the employee’s answer to the question. This type of statement generally takes longer to prepare since the question must be typed or handwritten prior to inserting the employee’s response.
Preprinted Fill-in-the-Blank. This type of final statement is an attempt by organizations to standardise the appearance and content of the employees’ admissions. These types of documents generally have a number of preprinted paragraphs and sentences containing spaces for the employee to fill in their admissions of theft or other dishonesty. Often, these types of statements also have a location for the employee to add a small narrative expressing regret for their actions.
Investigator Writes the Employee’s Statement. The interviewer or investigator uses the employee’s admissions or explanations to write a statement detailing them, which the associate signs upon completion. Generally, this format is similar to the narrative except that it is prepared by the interviewer rather than written by the associate. This statement is often used in situations where the employee cannot write or is reluctant to write a statement on their own.
Audio/Video Statement. With the advent of digital recorders and the proliferation of telephone interviewing, some organizations use an audio recording of the employee’s statement. This is generally done at the conclusion of the interview where the associate reiterates their admission and substantiates them orally, which is preserved by an audio recording. This recording is then either transcribed or simply stored in a case-management programme as part of the file.
Regardless of which form of the statement a company chooses to use, its content and format should remain fairly consistent in each of the aforementioned types of statements.
Final Statement Preparation
The preparation for a well-organized statement begins as the interviewer plans for the interview. The interviewer should determine what the necessary proofs will be to establish the criminal act or policy violation. In internal theft investigations, the element of the crime is the intent to permanently deprive the company of its asset and to establish that the asset was owned by the organization. Generally, using the word “steal” establishes the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its property by its very definition.
The interviewer should also consider the personal needs of a decision-maker when thinking about the content of the statement. If, for example, human resources wants to be certain that the individual knew that it was wrong to steal, then this should also be included in the statement to satisfy their needs. A simple statement such as “I knew that it was wrong to steal from the company and also a violation of the law” is generally sufficient to satisfy anyone that the employee knew their actions were inappropriate.
Once the development of the admission has been completed, the interviewer should have their own notes detailing the admissions of the employee. These notes can be used in two ways. First, the interviewer may use the notes as another form of documentation by having the employee initial the various admissions attesting to their correctness. The interviewer’s notes are then signed by the employee and dated. These notes then become part of the investigative case file to support the final statement. Second, the interviewer may use these notes to help format the final statement, making sure that all the details and admissions made by the associate are included in the final statement document.
In most cases, the employee’s statement is organized in the following manner:
1. The document is dated with the date it was prepared, and often the time it began and was completed is included.
2. The first paragraph in the document is used to identify the individual and establish their biographical information. At a minimum, this should include the individual’s name, position within the organization, and tenure, plus the location of assignment. This establishes their role as an employee and the venue of the incident if a criminal complaint is going to be contemplated. Some organizations include other biographical information such as the associate’s address, employee identification number, or other personal information.
3. The document’s second paragraph is a summary of the admission made by the dishonest employee during the interview. This summary is not a substantiated or detailed admission, but rather an overview of what is to come. For example, the associate might write, “I stole $300 in merchandise and $200 in cash from (insert company name) store 5295.”
4. In the subsequent paragraphs, the employee substantiates each of the previous paragraph’s broad admissions. For example, if the employee had admitted stealing $100 in cash from their register and another $100 using fraudulent refunds, there would be two paragraphs covering these theft admissions. This would then be followed by the substantiation of the $300 in merchandise with as many details as possible relating to the method of the theft, plus the types and quantities of merchandise stolen.
5. There may be other paragraphs that would link documents or evidence to the statement. If the associate had identified refunds, it would be useful to have them initial those documents and date them. In this paragraph, they would note they had identified the fraudulent documents, initialling and dating those they identified as used to steal from the organization.
6. There may be another paragraph relating to diagrams prepared by the employee to show how they concealed merchandise or removed merchandise from the store.
7. Following the substantiation of the admission paragraphs, the employee is encouraged to write their reason for participating in the incidents and to express regret for their actions if they wish. Often the employee may choose to write their reasons for becoming involved and detail the personal issues contributing to his dishonesty.
8. This section of the statement establishes its voluntariness. The employee is asked whether the statements they made are true and whether any threats or promises were made to obtain them. Their answer to that question is incorporated in this portion of the statement.
9. The employee, interviewer, and witness sign and number each page including the date and time of the statement’s completion.
10. The employee initials any scratch-outs or changes they have made on each of the pages.
The Full Stop
Regardless of the type of statement chosen by an organization, the format and ultimate content of the final statement can be the same. However, there may be instances where the associate is not being clear in their writing. In these situations, the interviewer may find it useful to write five or six specific questions that clearly establish the elements of the crime or policy violation and then ask the associate to write their answers after each question.
The interviewer may also find it useful to take a statement from the witness who sat in on the interview. The witness is asked to write a detailed summary of what occurred during the interview including the interviewer’s and employee’s demeanour. The witness can also initial and sign the interviewer’s notes just as the employee did to attest to their accuracy and completeness. This additional statement will serve to document what went on during the interview and act as a source of review for the witness should they be required to testify.
The formatting and content of the final voluntary statement is relatively straightforward. The statement freezes the moment in time for a detailed examination of the employee’s attitude, truthfulness, and voluntariness of their admissions during the interview. The statement is like a full stop (period) at the end of a sentence; without a full stop, the sentence is incomplete. Without a good complete statement, the interview is incomplete.
This article was originally published in LP Magazine Europe in 2017 and was updated July 11, 2017.