One of the most human-centric tasks of the loss prevention professional is the responsibility to conduct investigative interviews and have sensitive conversations. Although this interaction is heavily dependent on human interaction, technology continues to impact the process. Innovative ideas and technological advancements can often supplement, strengthen, or even replace certain job tasks. Professionals who are resistant to the evolving world of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) will find themselves well behind in the progression of our industry.
As we explore areas where technology has impacted investigative interviewing, it’s important to understand its current limitations while also embracing the opportunities it can create. Using innovative technology to conduct research, incorporating solutions into the investigative strategy, and leveraging these tools while conducting the interview are all ways to create a more efficient and effective process.
The concept of “evidence-based” interviewing means that the methods and tactics used have been researched by the academic community and its teachings are reliant on these findings. The importance of strategic rapport development and the avoidance of coercive techniques are examples of areas in which research has helped to inform the investigative community. However, one of the obstacles in designing research around interviewing is trying to replicate real-world “interrogations” in an experimental setting. Another problem, historically, has been attempting to assess actual interviews based on an investigator’s or a suspect’s recall of the conversation. Technology has helped scholars in their efforts to overcome both issues.
Electronic recording of interviews has helped to memorialize conversations and provide samples of real interactions for researchers to compile. There are some innovative programs out there that will also allow researchers to code for specific tactics while watching a video of an interview. Markers to indicate admissions, coercive tactics, or other measurables can then be used to compile large data sets providing investigators with incredible insight.
Virtual reality (VR) has also made its way into investigative interviewing research. Dr. Hayley Cleary, at Virginia Commonwealth University, is leading a study on interrogation tactics with youthful subjects using VR technology. Creating more real-world research studies while increasing the measurable data points will only help to inform investigators. Technology has made this possible and it has made collecting results more efficient.
In the last few years, due to both the pandemic and increasing travel costs, many investigators have relied on technology to conduct interviews remotely. Phone interviews have long been a reliable resource for investigators, but technological advancements in recent years have allowed for a more engaging experience. The use of innovative software to host video meetings combined with high-quality video equipment has allowed investigators to manage cases more efficiently.
Conducting interviews remotely has several benefits, including the timeliness of the conversation and reduced travel costs. It may also serve to better protect the reputation of the interviewee without an investigator needing to show up on location and have a closed-door meeting. Although some cases and conversations may not be suited for a remote interview, investigators should look for innovative ways to use this technology. The ability to record interviews, bring additional witnesses into the conversation, screen‑share evidence for discussion, or even capture statements remotely are all innovative ways to leverage this technology.
The recording of interviews in the private sector has consistently grown in popularity, partly due to the availability of better (and more cost-effective) technology. Recording interviews has several benefits for an organization and its staff. The resulting transparency in these conversations can have multiple side effects and benefits. When interviewers perform as instructed, the recording can serve as a valuable piece of evidence demonstrating the fairness and ethical approach to the conversation. Conversely, if interviewers behave outside of company policy, this can provide important insight to leadership on how to best correct the situation and provide more training or accountability. Recording can also prove to be a valuable training tool for other investigators—something that WZ has utilized since its inception in 1982.
Hopefully, long gone are the days of having to place a VHS tape in a video recorder for each interview. With improvements in digital storage, whether locally or cloud-based, many organizations are finding it more cost-effective to retain high-quality recordings. The recording devices themselves have also evolved exponentially in the last few years including body-worn cameras, portable devices, and some with AI functionality to follow the speaker or even transcribe the conversation.
Outside of the interview room, investigators continue to leverage innovative solutions to support their investigations. License plate readers, facial recognition, AI functionality within video surveillance, RFID, and GPS tracking devices are just a few of the trending resources seen throughout the industry. Although this technology can be essential in an investigation, interviewers should also be aware of the potential for misuse of the information or even faulty data. False matches on facial recognition or tagging a vehicle that has a stolen plate may lead an investigator down the wrong path.
When it comes to strategizing an interview supported with circumstantial evidence, investigators should explore potential explanations or alternative theories. Evidence can be used strategically throughout a conversation, but an effective interviewer will explore each potential explanation or excuse for the evidence in front of them.
Investigators are quickly becoming well- versed in the benefits and the significant risks of AI within the workplace. Using AI chat platforms can prove to be an efficient way to accomplish tasks and conduct research. However, AI has also been used to create “deepfake” videos, fake emails, phone calls, text message threads, or other potential evidence that, on its surface, appears real. Investigators must remain informed about the capabilities of this technology to best strategize an investigative interview and understand the credibility of the evidence they are using. As AI promises to replace human interaction for customer service calls, sales pitches, and other tasks, investigators must not lose sight of the importance of sincere empathy and rapport within investigative interviews.
Embracing new technology and continuing to innovate is essential, but relying on it without an investigative mindset is incredibly dangerous.