Setting a Standard in Interview and Interrogation

Setting a Standard in Interview and Interrogation

Sometimes, something goes wrong. Maybe the confession is inadmissible in court for some reason. Or worse, maybe the suspect brings litigation against your company because he alleges the confession was coerced.

With so much on the line, it is easy to see why interviewing and interrogation are important parts of a loss prevention professionals job. But ensuring your interrogators meet accepted best practices is often overlooked.

The Center for Interviewer Standards and Assessment (CISA) hopes to change that with what they have designated the Certified Forensic Interviewer (CFI) program. The objective of this certification program is to create comprehensive, universally accepted professional standards combined with an objective measure of an interviewers knowledge of those standards. The ultimate goal is that every person and every company with a stake in interviewing will benefit from the program, as will the reputation and effectiveness of the entire loss prevention profession.

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Human versus Technological Solutions

Technology seems to be the solution to most business problems these days computers, software, surveillance systems, networks, EAS, and on and on. For many loss prevention issues and practices, technology has made a great, positive impact.

But when it comes to interviewing suspects and witnesses, technology is of little use. Thats because it requires human interaction. Sitting face to-face with suspects trying to protect themselves is far too complex a situation for technology to solve easily.
There are verbal and behavioral nuances you must be able to notice before you can hope to get a confession. There are possible legal ramifications for every question you ask, even the way you ask those questions.

Too many LP professionals who conduct interviews make basic mistakes that end up exposing their employer to unnecessary liability, observes Steven May, president of LP Innovations, an LP outsourcing services company. Overcoming these things is simply a matter of education and standards. Thats what CISA and the CFI program are all about.

The Benefits of CFI

Not knowing how to properly conduct an interview directly affects the company you work for, your own career, and the LP industry as a whole. CISA feels the CFI program will effectively address all of these issues. your average person on the street doesn’t really understand interviewing and interrogation. More likely than not, interrogation is incorrectly thought of as a manipulative grilling of the sort seen on television or movies. However, the more interviews that are done in a professional manner, the more likely the public will be of accepting the process as a respected part of the LP procedure. Who knows, they may even be more willing to cooperate in interviews. For businesses, efficient and professional interviews will decrease allegations of false confessions, as well as their exposure to liability. No matter what spreadsheet an accountant shows you, decreasing legal fees can be just as valuable to the bottom line as preventing and recovering losses. So while interviewing may seem to be a small part of LP, it can have a major impact on the overall business.

Setting a Standard in Interview and InterrogationCFI will also help loss prevention managers make smarter hiring decisions. Right now, there are varying courses offered by different people and companies. You never really know if the course a person took was for a few hours or several days, if the classes were advanced or beginner, explains Mark Sullivan, senior manager of loss prevention services for Deloitte & Touche. CFI will put an end to that guessing. It gives you a measure of how much training a job candidate has in the core areas of interviewing and interrogation.

And as for the individual LP professional, the CFI program gives you a way to prove your depth of knowledge. In addition to gaining the skills and confidence to do your job more effectively, you have a way to prove exactly how much you know the next time a promotion comes up or you interview for a new job.

CFI will become a widely accepted way to identify the people who are really good at conducting interviews and interrogations, continues Sullivan. The people who put significant time and effort into their careers. The kind of people you want to hire.

Recognizing the Need

CISA is the brainchild of Doug Wicklander and David Zulawski, founders and executives at Wicklander- Zulawski & Associates, a recognized leader in interview and investigative services. Based on their experience in the industry, they recognized a lack of consistency, respect, and professionalism.

People think that if you get a confession, it was a good interview. But that isnt always true, Wicklander says. Many times it simply cant be used for one reason or another. And more and more companies are being held liable because a suspect claims their confession was coerced. All these things made it clear to us there needed to be some kind of measure, or standard, in how interview practitioners do their job.

In early 2001, Wicklander and Zulawski formed CISA with the goal to help interviewers gain the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct a variety of investigative interviews with an understanding of the legal issues and with high levels of proficiency.

To develop the CFI program and guide the new organization, Wicklander and Zulawski recruited top executives and specialists from across the private and public sectors. Members of CISAs advisory committee consist of fifteen members, including Mike Keenan, vice president of loss prevention for Ross Stores and chairman of the LP council for the National Retail Federation; Alan Tague, director of loss prevention for Gander Mountain; Fred Wilson, vice president of store administration at CarMax; Wayne Hoover, partner at Wicklander-Zulawski and Associates; LP Innovations Steven May; and Mark Sullivan from Deloitte & Touche, to name a few. The first job facing the CISA advisory committee was to develop the CFI program and, more precisely, the CFI exam. First, we had to agree on exactly what a job well done means, recalls Zulawski, and what it means to have a well-rounded body of knowledge. Then we had to agree on a fair and accurate way to measure if interview practitioners meet those standards. It took a lot of meetings and more than a few discussions.

The CPA for the LP profession

Think of CFI in terms of the commonly known CPA (certified public accountant) designation. Thats exactly what everyone involved in developing the CFI program hopes it will come to mean in the LP profession. Now, given all of the corporate accounting scandals in the news, you might think this is a particularly bad analogy. But its just the opposite. It is because groups of renegade accountants played loose and free with acceptable accounting standards that they and their companies are in such trouble.

Like CPA standards, CISA fully expects CFI to be the standard when it comes to professional and ethical interviewing.
LP professionals and employers will most likely embrace CFI, May predicts. Everyone recognizes the need for standards when it comes to basic practices and professionalism. We all know that the better you do your job, the better you look and the more your company benefits, especially when it comes to reducing liability.

Kirk Lonbom, bureau chief in the Illinois State Police, agrees, Further professionalism will advance this incredibly important part of our jobs. Right now, CISA and CFI are the best ways of achieving it.

As CFI becomes engrained in LP and other fields that use interviewing and interrogation, it will become meaningful to governmental bodies, to businesses, and, possibly most importantly of all, to the legal community, just as CPA does.

Mitigating Liability. Since liability continues to become more and more of an issue, CFI will help companies mitigate liability accusations in the first place, and more easily disprove liability cases that do come up.

Lawyers try to impeach the credibility of the interviewer, says Keenan. Certification will be a very strong counter to those efforts. Being able to prove a person has gone through the appropriate training, and that they handle interviews in a professional, consistent manner is a great way to defend against litigation if not avoid it altogether.”

Easier Prosecution. Having attained a recognized professional standard will make the investigator more valuable in front of lawyers and the court, making it easier to prosecute suspects.

With time, I think the courts and prosecutors will grab hold of CFI as an acceptable legal standard, states Lonbom. I hope theyll even come to demand it as proof that an interrogator knows what they’re talking about when they testify.

Avoiding Regulations. Again, like the accounting industry, a field as sensitive as interviewing and interrogation needs standards. If the government doesnt feel steps are being taken in that direction by the industry, it might just take those steps itself.

If we, as an industry, dont take responsibility for ourselves, someone else will, Keenan predicts. And nobody can do it as well as we can. CFI goes a long way toward doing that by raising the level of professionalism and accountability.

Developing the Exam

The CFI program has taken over a year to develop. Working with Applied Measurement Professionals (AMP), a certification development specialist, the CISA advisory committee developed a survey that was then sent out to 1,000 interview practitioners across the country. The goal of the survey was to determine how frequently interviewers use specific tasks and the importance they place on those tasks.

With this feedback in hand, a team of more than twenty interview and interrogation experts spent three days writing the CFI exam. Each person led the development of a content area based on his particular expertise. After several rounds of reviews and revisions, the CFI exam was complete. Over time, it will be reevaluated to make certain the exam continues to address relevant subjects, maintains high standards, and is accessible by candidates from


A lot of interview experts, LP executives, and law enforcement professionals put a lot of hard work into it, says Sullivan. They critiqued and wrestled over every question on the exam to make sure they were exactly right. People will be hard-pressed to criticize the method CISA used, not to mention the end result.

For CFI to have meaning in the LP arena, it must be recognized by individuals, employers, and others throughout the profession. That rationale is exactly why the CFI program was developed with no agenda other than to come up with the best, objective set of standards for commonly employed interview and interrogation tasks.

This objectivity and inclusiveness are critical if CFI is to be adopted. It is also why CISA does not require CFI candidates to attend specific seminars or purchase study materials. While studying certainly is encouraged, and review materials are available through CISA, CFI candidates may prepare for the exam in whatever way they want. But according to Keenan, the breadth and depth of the exam are such that even a seasoned interviewer would have difficulty passing on their first attempt.

Having a lot of experience doesnt mean you know all the right things, Keenan says. CFI puts interviewing into context, so you not only know what to do, but why you should do things that way.

Bureau Chief Lonbom adds, The process of preparing for and completing the CFI exam will help fill gaps and renew participants knowledge. I am very excited that so many people in our field will be able to benefit from CFI.

A Comprehensive Test

The goal of the exam is two-fold, explains Keenan. First, to make sure candidates understand the fundamentals of interviewing. That means knowing suspects rights and what an interviewer can and cant do. Second, they should know the basic investigative steps that lead to the highest success rates, such as preparation, how to use evidence, and certain interviewing techniques.

To those ends, the CFI exam covers the most important aspects of an interviewers job. It is an exhaustive, fifteen-section test designed to measure the overall knowledge of an interview practitioner. The exams core sections include:

  • Preparation and room setting
  • Legal aspects
  • False confessions
  • Interpretation of behavior
  • Accusations
  • Showing understanding/
  • rationalization/themes
  • Assumptive question
  • Enticement question/bait question
  • Denials/backing out
  • Statements
  • Telephone interview
  • Fact gathering/cognitive interviews
  • Sexual harassment interviewing
  • Behavioral interviews
  • Field interviews

CISA recognizes that the exam measures an interview practitioners knowledge base, not how well that knowledge is put to work. The two can be very different. However, the goal of CFI is to prepare people to go into any interview situation with a solid understanding of the basic parameters of interviewing and a set of core, proven tactics.

Taking the Exam

The first CFI exam will be given in January 2003 at ovor 100 sites around the country.iIf you are interested in taking the exam or want more information, contact CISA at 1-866-616-5800.

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