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A Global Standard of Interviewing

Investigative interview training, guidelines, and expectations have grown significantly over the last several years from “the way we’ve always done it” to a global movement of standardization. A continuously expanding body of academic research combined with anecdotal insights from practitioners has provided the ability to examine the effectiveness of interview training and methodology. The evolution of this standardization has been a lengthy process and one that culminated in 2021 with the release of The Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering.

The Association for the Prevention of Torture, along with the Anti-Torture Initiative at the Washington College of Law at American University and the Norwegian Center for Human Rights were part of the coordinating group supporting the development of the principles by the steering committee. The principles are being used as a template for many organizations and countries around the world. The advisory council and steering committee consisted of representatives chosen from multiple verticals including law enforcement, academia, and legal scholars.

Most of the attention toward improving interview or “interrogation” techniques has been focused on the public sector, ranging from traditional law enforcement investigations to counterterrorism efforts. However, loss prevention professionals are equally well-informed on the ever-changing landscape of how to conduct appropriate interviews, and are consistently seeking continued education opportunities to improve this skillset.

In fact, the loss prevention industry has sought standardization and certification in interviewing for several decades. The Certified Forensic Interviewer (CFI) designation has long served as an industry standard for “elite” interviewers. This achievement helps to separate those who have pursued advanced training and knowledge of investigative interviewing and interrogation.

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Continued education such as obtaining the CFI designation and other formalized training programs, like Wicklander- Zulawski, are important aspects of these international principles. These principles, as detailed below, have been supported by several notable groups across the globe including the American Bar Association, the International Legal Foundation, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police IMPACT Section. Those tasked with leading a group of interviewers, creating a standard operating procedure, or conducting interviews themselves can find value in using these principles to implement a consistent, standardized expectation.

According to the Association for the Prevention of Torture, these principles, founded on science, law, and ethics, have been broken into the below categories with a focus on obtaining “accurate and reliable” information.

On Foundation

The basis of this principle is to lay the groundwork that interviewing methods should be based on “science, law, and ethics.” In a recent LP Magazine article, we discussed the importance of bringing science into the interview room. The growing body of academic research has significantly improved the effectiveness of interviewing, if implemented properly. Understanding the limitations of improper and outdated techniques while incorporating knowledge from research studies can produce better results for interviewers. In recent years we have seen research on the importance of rapport, appropriate question structure, and the strategic use of evidence, which have all supported better outcomes of interviews.

On Practice

An essential target of these principles is to change the mindset of the interviewer from a confession-based approach to one of obtaining accurate and reliable information. Although a confession is obviously a powerful piece of evidence, it should not be the sole intent of the interviewer as it narrows the scope of their focus and results in confirmation bias. Effective interviewing also includes conversations with victims and witnesses, where we should ensure the method is targeted at obtaining the most amount of information possible, without contamination.

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On Vulnerability

An equally important but often overlooked principle is to ensure that investigators are aware of and make appropriate accommodations for a vulnerable interviewee. A highly likely situation in the loss prevention industry is the interview of a youthful subject. Interviewers and organizations should be aware of potential vulnerabilities due to a person’s age and have specific guidelines to account for this concern.

Vulnerability is not just limited to age, however. Interviewees may have other characteristics that render them more susceptible to improper techniques including intellectual capabilities or personality disorders. There are also situational factors to consider, including the length of an interview, the time of day, the state of mind of the interviewee, and their potential incentives to “escape” the interview.

On Training

Interviewing is not a skill that should be purely learned through on-the-job training. This is a professional responsibility that has the potential to impact the livelihood of all involved, while also posing a liability for the organization. Those afforded the opportunity to conduct interviews should be formally and consistently trained, specific to these skillsets.

There is an inherent risk taken by organizations that have interviewers learn by simply observing other interviews without the appropriate foundational training or oversight. As is the theme of this article, research and practice in the field of interviewing is ever-changing and this essential knowledge is most likely missed without a dedicated training program.

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On Accountability

As with any policy or expectation, it carries no weight without accountability and transparency. There are a variety of ways to ensure compliance with this principle, including the electronic recording of interviews. Understanding that some organizations may have legal and financial obstacles to overcome, the ability to record an interview in its entirety with an oversight process can play a significant role in accountability.

If this option is unavailable, organizations can look at alternatives such as auditing their interviews on a routine basis as a leadership or peer responsibility. The investment in an interviewer through training programs can be lost without an effective follow-up and accountability process.

On Implementation

The final principle highlights the way in which these concepts can be operationalized. The ultimate goal of these standards is to have them adopted on a global basis, but this can be equally accomplished in the private sector. For an effective rollout of any program, organizations should implement with expectations across the entire company. These principles can then serve as a decision-making tree for appropriate interview methods, policy decisions, and requests for funding training.

The challenge for investigators and leadership is to understand these principles and how they can be adopted into their own organization. Many of these may already be in place but serve as a consistent reminder on the areas in which we need to hold ourselves accountable. For more information, please visit

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