Gaining Witness Cooperation: An International Survey of Investigative Interviewers

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The application of interviewing strategies to gather accurate and detailed witness accounts is highly dependent on witness cooperation. However, some witnesses who recall the crime are unwilling to be involved in the criminal investigation. For example, some uncooperative witnesses are resistant to disclose valid information to aid the case, while others who have been intimidated or are hostile towards the police are simply reluctant to talk. Therefore, lack of witness cooperation represents a significant obstacle to law enforcement gathering witness evidence. Furthermore, emergent research indicates that lack of cooperation is detrimental to the amount and accuracy of information disclosed by witnesses, and that it affects how investigative interviews are conducted. Thus, we focus this research on how practitioners overcome lack of witness cooperation and interview initially uncooperative witnesses.

Study purpose: To conduct the first examination of current investigative interviewing of uncooperative witnesses from an international practitioner’s perspective. We examined practitioner’s beliefs regarding and witnesses’ motives to cooperate and not cooperate in criminal investigations. In addition, we aimed to learn the prevalence and relevance of this topic according to their experience, as well as which strategies practitioners believe to be effective specifically to interview witnesses who are unwilling to cooperate and disclose information.
Method: Police officers who conduct witness interviews took part in an online survey. Participants (N = 227) were investigative interviewers across different police services in The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Australia.

Results: Data is currently being translated, analysed and will be presented at the conference. We expect interviewing of uncooperative witnesses to be different across countries according to police interviewing experience, training, institutional demands and each country’s tradition of interviewing, whether information gathering or accusatorial. Specifically, we predict that practitioners’ belief that witnesses ought to cooperate, together with lack of training and flexibility influence the perception of effectiveness of interviewing strategies that in fact interfere with the task of gaining and maintaining cooperation (e.g., using closed and probative questions). In addition, we expect that current practice does not target how to increase motivation to cooperate and is detrimental to witnesses’ memory processes (e.g., poor rapport building). Lastly, practitioners aiming to overcome lack of witness cooperation may be resorting to interviewing strategies which have unknown consequences for the validity and reliability of witness accounts, such as legal warnings about lying and withholding information, moral appeals, or anonymity incentives.

Conclusions: Findings from this research are of vital importance to reflect and improve the quality of witness interviewing by identifying and changing practice that does not promote cooperation or increases witness reluctance to disclose information. In addition, understanding how interviewers’ beliefs regarding witness cooperation (and lack thereof) affect information gathering during investigative interviews is necessary to inform interviewing training and lines of research that examine the effects of current practice on witness accounts considering their importance to advance criminal investigations and as evidence in court. Most importantly, given the practical relevance of this topic, future research examining field data is warranted to examine the extent to which practitioner’s beliefs, perceptions and experiences of interviewing uncooperative witnesses affect real witness interviewing practice.

Key words: Investigative interviewing, cooperation, information elicitation, police survey.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventAnnual Conference of the European Association of Psychology and Law 2019 - Faculty of LPsychology, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Duration: 17 Jul 201920 Jul 2019


ConferenceAnnual Conference of the European Association of Psychology and Law 2019
CitySantiago de Compostela
Internet address

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