What Has Changed in Fifteen Years of Interviewing

It’s difficult to believe that it is been fifteen years since Jim Lee, Walter Palmer, and Jack Trlica established Loss Prevention magazine as the loss prevention industry’s only magazine. We were privileged to be asked to participate in the premiere issue, Fall 2001, and have continued with an ongoing column dedicated to interviewing and investigation ever since. The magazine has changed its look over the years, but has continued to provide the loss prevention industry with the relevant and timely articles it needed to grow.

The magazine founders’ foresight in providing a central location for loss prevention information and education manifested itself in the following years with two certification programs to further professionalize the LP industry. The Loss Prevention Foundation was established to provide a certification for the industry to qualify and certify that those in the profession had the necessary knowledge to provide professional advice to their organizations. LPQualified and LPCertified became important designations signifying the holders had the knowledge necessary to grow their careers and elevate the loss prevention profession.

The Certified Forensic Interviewer (CFI) designation furthered the educational aims of the industry by focusing on a critical skill set used by investigators to establish the facts in a case and later to obtain admissions of wrongdoing. The CFI is an exclusive fraternity of interviewers who have established that they have the necessary knowledge to conduct investigative interviews with victims, witnesses, suspects, or other sources to determine the facts in the case. The CFI certification is managed under the auspices of the International Association of Interviewers (IAI), a professional organization focused on the science of interviewing and continuing education.

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LP Magazine provided a springboard to the foundation and IAI to further the professionalism of a burgeoning aspect of controlling loss in organizations. But the professional organizations are only one aspect of the changes that have occurred over the last fifteen years in the industry.

Evolving Techniques

As interviewing has come under increasing scrutiny in the public sector, this scrutiny has also spilled over into interviews conducted by loss prevention investigators for their companies. With the advent of DNA and its increasing use, it became evident that police investigators were sometimes obtaining false confessions from innocent people. These confessions became the foundation upon which prosecutors built their cases even when lacking independent corroboration of the individual’s guilt. Over the last five years, there have been an increasing number of falsely convicted individuals released from prison after their cases were re-examined.

In many of these cases, expert witnesses from the academic community would offer opinions on the causes of these false confessions; they are increasingly focusing on John E. Reid’s confrontational nine steps of interrogation as the underlying cause of the false confessions. These experts have recently entered into civil lawsuits alleging improprieties in the employee dishonesty interviews conducted by LP investigators. Fortunately, the ongoing training and strong differences in operating procedures between the private and public sector has often been enough to make the experts’ testimony irrelevant.

Most companies are using the WZ non-confrontational interrogation style, and more and more law enforcement agencies are beginning to shy away from the aggressive confrontational approach, preferring instead a more ethical standard of interviewing. During the next ten years, there will be a dramatic shift away from a confrontational style of interrogation. This has begun in several countries around the globe and is beginning to creep into the North American marketplace.

Many companies in an effort to stay ahead of the potential for civil litigation have elected to establish strong ethical interviewing practices in their corporate culture. They begin this practice by training their investigators in the WZ non-confrontational approach to interviewing and then monitor and measure each investigator’s performance against this benchmark to make sure a standardized interview method is used across the company. Some companies also use recordings of the investigators’ interviews to continually monitor the treatment of associates being interviewed and to maintain a stream of feedback to the interviewer on his or her efforts.

While companies are training and monitoring their investigators’ efforts in internal investigations, there also have been changes in practices brought on by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions relating to internal investigations. Over the last several years, there have been an increasing number of NLRB decisions that have overturned long-standing precedents. For example, in 2015 the NLRB overturned thirty-seven years of precedent in protecting the confidentiality of witness statements, which could put the witnesses into a position of being intimidated or coerced. This is likely the result of a Democratic administration, which has shifted the balance of power on the board. Not only has the board taken a more favorable stance relating to union organizing, but also it has overturned precedent on maintaining confidentiality of the investigation. Citing an employee’s right to organize, the NLRB determined that a company requiring employees to keep an investigation confidential was a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The board also has changed the precedent relating to whether or not an employee has the right to record an interview with company officials.

We can anticipate that this trend of weakening a company investigation will continue as long as the board has a Democratic majority. Besides the National Labor Relations Board, we can anticipate a growing number of legal challenges relating to employee interviews. Lawyers are increasingly becoming aware of the internal investigations organizations conduct to remove dishonest or unethical associates from the business. As the notoriety of the false confession gained momentum over the last decade, lawyers are increasingly turning to false or coerced confession experts to testify at employment hearings, arbitrations, or in civil lawsuits.

Telephone Interviews

Another advance over the last fifteen years has been the increased use of telephone interviewing. Many organizations turned to telephone interviews only when there was an emergency or perhaps when an employee was caught in the act while no one from loss prevention was on-site. Our first sojourn into telephone interviewing was at the request of Paul Jones, then vice president of loss prevention of Sunglass Hut. Jones recognized an investigator’s loss of productivity and associated travel costs to handle an investigation across the country was a serious problem. He asked us to develop a training model of interviewing over the phone that could assist with his productivity and cost issues. With the success of that program, it quickly spread to other organizations that also recognized the advantages of a well-thought-out telephone interview program.

Other companies begin to develop teams of telephone interviewers to close cases where the evidence was conclusive of the employee’s guilt. The interviewers could use a script, and their performance could be measured and monitored. A number of companies used audio recordings as evidence of the interview, the subject’s treatment, and his confession. The same recordings could also be used to monitor and measure the interviewer’s performance against the prepared script. This provided a method to increase performance of the interviewer and monitor their activities on the phone. Plus, the entire interview was available to establish that there was no coercion, threats, or promises being made to the employee.

The smartphone and the ability to text will also be used to continue the investigation in real time as the employee makes admissions or offers explanations of why he couldn’t be involved. Texting allows other investigators an opportunity to disprove the employee’s statements in real time, so the interrogator can use that evidence during the actual interview with the employee.

For example, if an associate claimed he purchased a specific piece of merchandise from a location, it may be possible in real time to check the inventory to determine if that item was actually stocked in the store at the time claimed. Or a witness could be checked to see if he corroborates or disputes the employee’s statement. Since the investigator is on the phone, he may have access to any number of company reports he can consult to gather information about what the employee has admitted or denied.

With the influx of immigrants, there will be an additional need for bilingual interviewers or interpreters to assist during the interview. The smartphone also will offer a possible solution, providing real-time translation services for the interviewer or being able to link with an actual interpreter who can offer assistance in translating the conversation.

Interview Simulator

On a final note, we are working on an interviewing simulator that will allow an interviewer to practice interviewing on a computer with hundreds of variations to the interview. This will allow a new interviewer to practice the skills without the risk of going directly into a real conversation with a dishonest employee. The simulation will also allow interviewers who haven’t done an interview in a while to hone their skills before the big day.

We have only touched on some of the changes that occurred over the last fifteen years and some we believe will come during the next fifteen. We’re glad to have been part of the success of the loss prevention industry and hope that we will remain part of the LP Magazine team in the coming years.
Happy Anniversary, LPM!

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