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Date: Thu, 12 May 2005 23:52:35 +0100 (BST) From: Kerry Linfoot-Ham Subject: The Language of Police Interviewing
AUTHOR: Heydon, Georgina TITLE: The Language of Police Interviewing SUBTITLE: A Critical Analysis PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2004
Kerry Linfoot-Ham, doctoral student, Department of Linguistics, University of Florida, USA.
OVERVIEW This book aims to analyse closely a much under-researched aspect of institutional discourse -- the police-suspect interview. The book is aimed at discourse analysts and those interested in Pragmatic theories, as well as sociologists, criminologists, forensic linguists, and law enforcement professionals. While the analysis is very detailed, it is accessible to those with a limited background in linguistics, but is also highly beneficial to researchers whose studies focuses on institutional discourse at any level.
CONTENTS Chapter 1: Police Institutional Discourse In the introductory chapter of the book, Georgina Heydon introduces her reasons for analysing the police interview, her approach to the analysis, and her justification for claiming the police interview as an example of institutional discourse. The main reason for analysing this particular language patterns is said to be a curiosity in the 'voluntary' nature of the confession. The author clearly state her aims as the following: "...this book provides a detailed investigation of the role of police institutional discourse in the construction of a police-suspect interview, both in terms of the negotiation of power relations between participants and the successful fulfilment of institutional requirements" (p. 3).
The approach to the analysis is three-fold: i) a descriptive analysis of recorded police-suspect interviews, ii) an uncovering of the discursive practices common to such interviews to reveal the functional aspects of the interaction, and iii) the exposure of underlying social and cultural expectations of the structure of such interactions, and how they affect the resulting communication.
Heydon goes into great detail in giving reasons for classifying the police interview as institutional discourse. She states that the beginning and end of such interactions are consistent, as is dictated by the legislature surrounding the event. The intermediate interaction, however, may be highly variable for a number of reasons, including gender/race constructs, and the expectations of both the interviewers and the interviewees. The special perlocutionary force (cf. Austin, 1962) of the police caution as a declarative speech act (i.e. it brings about or 'creates' a certain state in the world, cf. Searle, 1969, 1979) is given special attention, and the author gives the history and evolution of this act, as well as expressing a belief that it may be an insufficient gesture given the nature of the interviewing event. Again her focus is on the 'voluntary' nature of the criminal confession, and how police officers interpret this aspect, and how it may also be interpreted in other fields of the criminal justice process.
Chapter 2: Tools for the Analysis of Police Interviews This chapter introduces the conventions that the subsequent analysis follows. Heydon selects Conversation Analysis (cf. Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson, 1974), Goffman's (1981) participation frameworks, and Critical Discourse Analysis (cf. Fairclough and Wodak, 1997) as her tools for the investigative process, and gives a detailed introduction and history of each method of analysis. As her goal in the book is to highlight the institutional aspects of police interviewing, however, she also goes into three major themes: 'power', 'discourse', and 'structure'.
'Power' is seen as the relationship between the police interviewer and the citizen interviewee, and how this is manifested during an interaction, and is, in fact, part of the interaction. Both parties have some degree of power in the exchange, though the amount is limited by their role, as well as their access to other discursive resources. Heydon defines 'discourse' by following conventions created by Fairclough (1989), i.e. " 'orders of discourse' [...] describe sets of conventions that underlie discourse [...] and 'discourse types' [...] describe a particular convention," (Heydon, 2005: 15). 'Structure' is used following Giddens (1982) to define the replication and creation of societal and systemic rules.
The next section in the chapter gives a brief introduction to the field of Forensic Linguistics, and highlights the fact that the language of police interviews is a hugely under-investigated sub-field of this discipline, not least due to the comparative inaccessibility of data, as compared to, for example, courtroom discourse. She emphasises that it is especially novel that this study focuses on the simple structure of the interview, as opposed to communicative difficulties, or mismatched in cultural backgrounds (e.g. gender, race, etc.) between interviewers and interviewees. Her analysis is said to show that, despite - or perhaps because of - strict regulations defining the function and organisation of the interview, and the societal and political expectations placed upon law enforcement agencies, "preferred version[s]" (p.34) of an interaction are produced in the transition between the verbal and written forms of the interviews. This is a direct reflection of the power inequality and the institutional nature of police interviews.
The final parts of the chapter provide details of the data collected and transcription techniques to be utilised throughout the analysis.
Chapter 3: An Analysis of the Interview Structure In this chapter Heydon addressing the formalised structure of the police interview, dividing it into three distinct parts: the Opening, the Information Gathering stage, and the Closing.
Both the Opening and Closing are easily identifiable, says the author, due to official constructions that are required by the legal institution within which the exchange takes place to validate the interview as a whole. These consist of formulaic utterances on the part of the interviewing officer to clarify charges, the rights of the interviewee, identification, and other background information, interspersed with responses from the interviewee where required. The information was consistently provided in all of the interviews examined by Heydon, almost certainly due to legal requirements. By using Goffman's participant role guidelines, Heydon assigns the role of 'author' and 'principal' in the exchange to the police institution (and the surrounding legal requirements), and the role of 'animator' to the interviewing officer. She states, "the institutionally defined goals are themselves responsible for the structure of the interview as having an Opening and a Closing," (p.57).
The Information Gathering mid-section of the interview has more variety, but Heydon manages to put forward three main prototypes of sequence. Critical to her analysis is the common thread throughout the book that the suspect's confession holds much more power if it is made voluntarily. For this reason, Heydon highlights the lengths that interviewing officers take to ensure this outcome. The over-riding structure sought is what she terms 'S3R', i.e. the suspect assumes all three roles of 'principal', 'author' and 'animator'. By giving a detailed analysis that illustrates her three prototypes, Heydon shows how the interviewers use different questioning techniques -- some more successful than others -- to shift into the S3R framework, thus negotiating a voluntary confession that would hold more validity as the case progresses through the criminal justice system.
Her conclusion is that the three parts of the interview are readily identifiable by their structure, and that each reflects in its organisation the institutional goals of the exchange.
Chapter 4: The Institutional Embedding of Authority Through a careful Conversation Analysis approach, Heydon uses this chapter to illustrate the aspects of the interview process, and to show how they serve the goals of the overarching institution within which they occur, i.e. the criminal justice system. Her analysis demonstrates the difference in roles between the participants in the interview (the primary interviewing officer, the secondary interviewing officer, and the suspect), and how their access to various conversational resources are limited systematically by the interviewing sequencing, power differentials, and expectations.
The main structure of the event is that of a question-answer chain, with topics being strongly controlled by the primary interviewing officer, with disjunctive questions being a common feature. Suspect-initiated topic changes are relatively infrequent and attempt to introduce mitigating circumstances surrounding the events about which they are being questioned. Interviewers often ignore these topic shifts, and the entire sequencing serves to create a "deference structure" (Frankel, 1990:235) within the interview.
Heydon then goes on to show how the police version of events may differ from that of the suspect's. The police version, she claims, is created through a series of accusations, followed by denials, acceptance, or a response which is neither a denial nor agreement, but which is treated as an acceptance by the interviewers. Her analysis illustrates the tactics employed by interviewers faced with denials, such as 'fishing devices' (p. 126), and 'formulations' (p. 131), both of which control the interview, and attempt to maximise the voluntary nature of any confessions. The suspect's version is, however, treated differently, with criminal aspects of the events accented through vocabulary choice (e.g. "closed" vs. "slammed"), and devices utilised that "include aspects of the narrative which were not mentioned by the suspect," (p. 136). Overall, Heydon states that her results show "that police authority is embedded in the institutional allocation of discursive resources," (p. 148).
Chapter 5: Interviewing Children: the VATE Approach In this chapter, Heydon examines differences and similarities between adult and child interviewing techniques. Whilst she finds that certain aspects of the interview remain the same, for example the Opening and Closing sections (due to the legal requirements mentioned above), she observes that there are different strategies employed by interviewers throughout the Information Gathering stage that aim to collect the desired facts.
One major finding is that when officers adopt the role of animator in reiterating the child's statement, the child feels more comfortable interrupting and adjusting the information given, whereas when officers appropriate the child's narrative, no changes were offered.
Other differences observed include the use of discoursal markers that delineate the boundaries of the interview (e.g. the time frame) and serve to maintain the interviewer's dominance in the situation, receipt markers that maintain the neutrality of the interviewers, and also naming rituals that differed between adult (more formal) and child (use of first names, and other informal attributes) interviews.
The final part of the chapter investigates the use of Can you...?/Do you...? questions, and Heydon proposes a hierarchy of those that will receive substantial answers, leading down to those that will be replied to with a simple yes/no.
Chapter 6: Myths about Police Interviewing Three widely held myths about police interviewing: the myths of comprehension, threatened authority, and persuasion are investigated in this chapter. Heydon justifies her research by stating that "... a number of forensic linguistic studies of police interviews with non-native English speakers were found to be based on expectations about interviews with native English speakers that have not yet been investigated..." (p. 165).
The myth of comprehension addresses the fact that 'policespeak' is not a common factor in ordinary life, and may, therefore, be seen as a potential problem for the interviewee -- a fact that is recognised by the police institution. However, two further problems were encountered. The first is that, when suspects did express problems comprehending the 'policespeak', interviewers failed to deviate from the formal, legal terms that were used originally in trying to explain meanings. The second was that, whereas the institution anticipated problems with 'policespeak', problems with more mundane expressions were not, and these often caused confusion and the potential for frustration on the parts of both the interviewer and interviewee.
The myth of threatened authority drew on the earlier analysis of participation frameworks in chapters 3 and 4 to show how successful manoeuvring into the S3R framework (the one preferred for a voluntary confession) was often hindered by the police interviewers' perceptions of threats to their authority. Whereas the more successful interviews, i.e. those that allowed a more conversational tone to persist, and thereby permitted the suspect to engage fully in the S3R framework, elicited more complete and desirable (from the point of view of the interviewing institution) responses, those that attempted to maintain authority failed to allow the transition into the S3R framework, or interrupted it once it had been initialised.
The myth of persuasion addressed the previously researched notion (cf. Baldwin, 1993; van Dijk, 1987) that it is almost impossible to 'persuade' a suspect to change their story from that initially elicited to one that aligns with the police version. Heydon's analysis, in fact, showed that attempts to achieve this outcome by interviewing officers (such as the 'fishing devices' mentioned above) served only to strengthen the suspects' commitment to their original versions, and to harden rejection of the police versions.
Chapter 7: Institutional Power In the concluding chapter, Heydon addresses issues that arose in the previous analyses. Firstly, she expounds the issue of police power within the discourse of the interview. She finds that, while the control of the interview is never held by the interviewing officer (the police institution holds it in the Opening and Closing phases, and the suspect (ideally in an S3R framework) holds it in the Information Gathering stage), the interactional resources to which the interviewer has access ensures that she/he remains the powerful figure in the process as a result of the "deference structure" (p. 198). This conflict is a frequent problem in negotiating the success of the interviews analysed.
The second part of the chapter examines the negotiation of suspect identity, and how the identities constructed by interviewing officers and the suspects themselves may again conflict and create interactional problems with regard to the desired institutional outcome of the interview, i.e. a voluntary confession. By imposing a 'standard' morality on the suspects actions and painting them in a bad light, the police officers' views of the suspects actions are incompatible with the suspects version of events, which attempts to mitigate the circumstances of the alleged crime. Both participants are at odds in the apportioning of blame, and it is apparent that this is undesirable in this particular context.
The final part of the chapter gives an explanation for the continuation of police behaviour that has been shown to be counter-productive given the institutional goals of the interview, i.e. the successive actions taken within the criminal justice system. Police interviewers feel themselves to be restricted by the requirements of courts and lawyers in the discourse that they may engage in with suspects. Variance may lead to cases being dismissed if legislatively required aspects of the process are omitted. It is this that contributes to the thesis and conclusion of Heydon's analysis.
The final conclusion drawn in this book is that it is imperative for police interviewers to be aware of different discourse styles available to them, and to be able to adjust according to the individual requirements of the interview, rather than feeling themselves to be trapped into a particular, required pattern by the criminal justice system as a whole. An understanding of the myths surrounding police interviews held by both the suspects and the interviewing officers and police institutions themselves will, ultimately, benefit the system as a whole, maximising the interviewing process, and allowing desired, institutional goals to be achieved.
CRITICAL EVALUATION This is an excellent, detailed analysis of an important area that will continue to be the focus of other young researchers in the future. Heydon's presentation is, for the most part, clear and accessible. There are always problems in line-by-line enumeration and referring to such transcriptions, and the book deals with these quite well. Her overview and use of references in this young field is encompassing, and the underlying theories utilised in the books are obviously very well researched.
The one criticism that could be made of the book is the inclusion of the VATE research, and chapter 5 as a whole. The analysis used for this part of the study differs to that used in the rest of the book, and the data is not presented in the same style - some is, in fact, referred to but not included (see section 5.5.1 of the book). It is apparent that this information is from previous research undertaken by the author, and the main reason for including it is to illustrate that different discourse styles are available to interviewing officers. This could have been achieved without this chapter, however (for example, the data beautifully analysed from Interview 2 is sufficient), and the jarring effect of the different writing, transcription, and analysis styles presented in this chapter could be avoided.
Overall, this book is a very valuable contribution to the young and expanding field of Forensic Linguistics. It is well researched, and expansive in its elucidation of previous research on institutional discourse, and provides and broad and encompassing bibliography. The analysis is detailed and accessible, and the conclusions are important to both police interviewers and to discourse analysts. This work is highly worthwhile, and both entertaining and educating.
REFERENCES Austin, J. (1962) How to do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Baldwin, J. (1993) "Police interview techniques: establishing truth or proof?", in British Journal of Criminology, vol. 33:3, p. 325-352.
Fairclough, N. (1989) Language and Power. Harlow: Longman.
Fairclough, N. and Wodak, R. (1997) "Critical Discourse Analysis", in van Dijk, T. A. (Ed.) (1997) Discourse as Social Interaction. London: Sage, p. 258-284.
Frankel, R. (1990) "Talking in interviews: a dispreference for patient- initiated question in physician-patient encounters", in Psathas, G. (Ed.) (1990) Interaction Competence. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, p. 231-262.
Giddens, A. (1982) Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory. London: Macmillan Press.
Goffman, E. (1981) Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Sacks, H., Schegloff, E., and Jefferson, G. (1974) "A simplest systematics for the organisation of turn-taking for conversation", in Language, vol. 50:4, p. 696-735.
Searle, J. (1979) "The classification of illocutionary acts", in Language in Society, vol. 8, p. 137-151.
Searle, J. (1969) Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Kerry Linfoot-Ham is a doctoral student at the University of Florida. Her research interests focus on police-citizen interaction, with particular reference to how Pragmatic theories may be utilised to describe and account for suspicions of lying of guilt in suspects and witnesses. Her current work involves observation of 'first-contact' interviews between uniformed deputies and officers in response to calls for assistance, and how the application of linguistic theories may maximise and harmonise the interaction.