Interrogations 101
from No Compromise Issue 29

Law Enforcement's Basic Bag o' Tricks

  • The classic "good cop, bad cop" routine ~You'd be surprised how often this works!
  • "Your friends are already cooperating. It's just a matter of time before we figure everything out and you're left in the cold." ~ Make sure you really know who your friends are.
  • "Your friend already told us the whole story. Why don't you just come clean and help yourself."
  • "Didn't you say that..." ~ If you've already talked, they'll repeatedly come back and ask the same questions in a different manner, trying to poke holes in your story.
  • "Listen, we know that you didn't really do anything. You're just caught up and it was your friends' idea. We just want to clear this up."
  • "We can't help you until you start helping us."
  • An arrestee who finds her/himself in a strange environment during a high-stress situation is susceptible to interrogation.
  • An arrestee deprived of adequate sleep is susceptible to interrogation.
  • Offers of refreshments: water, soda, snacks. ~ A prisoner becomes more susceptible to interrogation when s/he needs to use the restroom.
  • Threats of physical violence.
  • Threats of a long prison sentence. ~ Naturally, the "good cop" will make sure you're given leniency-- if you cooperate, of course.

In nearly every law enforcement encounter, you are viewed as if you are guilty, as if you have something to hide, as if you are a criminal. Read that again. Nothing you say can or will dissuade a law enforcement officer who is already suspicious of you. After all, why would s/he believe you? You are the suspect! And once you're being questioned, you're already a suspect. Read that again, too.
It's a false hope to think that by talking to them you will convince them that you're a nice person. All you're accomplishing is convincing them that you're an idiot-a dupe-someone who, when pressured enough, will begin to talk. And now they will know to turn on the pressure.

Once you open your mouth, it's hard to turn back. It's like trying to seal cracks in a leaking dam... once the flow starts, it's hard to undo the damage. So be smart and strong, fortify your position from the beginning and don't start out trying to back-pedal uphill. Encounters with law enforcement are intended to establish a power dynamic where you feel powerless and without control, but the reality is that you set the tone for your interrogation!

Remember: you can never win on their terms--. and a cooperating (talking) suspect without an attorney in an interrogation atmosphere is their terms. No battle is ever won by fighting on the defensive. Don't give them any ammunition/information to use against you or others. Any story or information you provide, no matter how innocent it may seem, can be used against you or others in the future, and can easily be used to trick others into thinking that you're cooperating. Just remain silent and request an attorney. And in the unlikely event that you're charged, and-- even less likely-- taken to trial, your defense will be infinitely stronger and better able to rebuff any "evidence" against you.

Remember, don't think you can talk your way out of an interrogation room or jail cell. Don't think you can convince law enforcement that you're innocent. You can't! Put aside your fears and take action that is based on calm and collected reason. It is critically important that you refuse to succumb to your emotions. Don't give in to fear.

Silence is ALWAYS the safest route. When you talk, you put yourself and others at risk. Never gamble on trying to outsmart any law enforcement officer-- never mind that lying to a cop or a fed is a crime.

Most importantly: no matter what you do, never talk about anyone else!!! It's not smart, honorable, prudent, or right for you to decide someone else's fate by providing information about others to law enforcement-regardless of how benign you think such information might be!

A Few Basic Tips

  • Better safe than sorry: it's better to say nothing and piss off the cops than to risk saying something that can cost you or others your freedom.
  • Remain silent: you don't have to wait for your "Miranda Rights" before you decide to remain silent.
  • Request an attorney--, repeatedly, if necessary. Make it clear that you want to speak to an attorney and then say nothing until the attorney is present. If you request an attorney but begin talking voluntarily after the request, you've essentially waived your rights again.
  • Don't let your irrational fears and emotions take over. Try to remain calm and realize that things ALWAYS seem the very worst at first.
  • Understand that your situation will improve and that your worry and fear are the weak links in the scenario. Don't despair and never give in.
  • Remember that others have been through something similar before and survived.
  • Never talk about other people.
  • Silly as it may sound, try singing a song in your head - the sort you'd rock out to while driving. Or think about other activists or struggles that you admire and respect. Draw strength from the experiences, trials, and triumphs of others.