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Interviewing and Interrogating Gang Members

Strategic Communications (Debriefing, Interviewing, and Interrogation):

I am big on philosophical quotations. I am a great admirer of Miyamoto Musashi, who was the greatest swordsman of feudal Japan. As criminal justice professional whether we like it or not we are communicators. A quote I am fond of is, "Words are the facial expression of your mind." Sometimes in the interview room, or in our personal life, words based on how we express them get us in trouble.

All of us have certain fears, and statistics show that public speaking is in the top five. Public speaking isn't just in front of large crowds. If we don't have our thoughts together, we cannot convey our point, nor can who we are talking to understand what we are trying to convey. So, "Fast is fine but accuracy is final;" Wyatt Earp!

You must be accurate during all facets of a gang investigation but obtaining the information through verbal communication will make or break your case.

The Traits of a Good Communicator includes the following:

  • The first impression lasts no longer than seven seconds. It includes your introduction, handshake, dress, smile, demeanor, and vocabulary. It encompasses your attitude, personality, and perspective.
  • You must establish eye contact. You are in control. Any vision by the gang member through your eyes that you are unsure or not confident is a sign of weakness.
  • Make them feel you and only you understand them.
  • Keep your questions short and simple. Your goal is to have their answers long and informative.
  • The golden rule, Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How.

We are visual people, because we grew up in an audio-visual world. There is television, movies, videos, and computers. Gang members utilize all these aids, so never think they are unintelligent. They will fool you!

Are you the right interviewer? That is important, because in certain situations, you may not! You must be knowledgeable about the person you are speaking to. Ask them questions about themselves. Have familiarity with their criminal history before you talk to them. Know the topic (s) you want to talk about.

Be respectful! Remember respect gets respect! Be a good conversationalist. You will be surprised on what the gang member knows. Be culturally empathetic.

If you are working Asian or Hispanic gang members, be culturally aware of customs, dialect, and their history and traditions. And above all you must be patient!

What are Tactical Communications:

  • Tactical Communications is information to help build relationships, a de-escalation of stress factors, and it becomes easier to recognize the behavior of the gang member, rather than initiate a personal attack on the suspect.
  • Officers developed a greater understanding of the people they were sworn to protect. They became more understanding of styles of behavior. Sometimes applying their personal expectations was neither accurate nor fair.
  • It is a disciplined study of verbal communication that will help an officer stay calm and professional under verbal assault and generate voluntary compliance from even the most difficult people.
  • The ability to communicate effectively is an officer's greatest asset.


Whether it is a police interview room, or inside a correctional center, you will mainly conduct interviews with gang members. There are several differences between an interview and an interrogation:

  • In an interview, you get information; in an interrogation, you get a confession.
  • In an interview, you can take notes; in an interrogation, you do not take notes.
  • In an interview, the interviewee talks the most; in an interrogation, you talk the most.
  • In an interview, you are friendly; in an interrogation, you are not friendly.
  • In an interview, you are the supportive good cop; in an interrogation, you are the accusatory bad cop;
  • In an interview, you both sit; in an interrogation, they sit, and you can stand.

When preparing to interview a gang member, follow these guidelines:

Never go into an interview with a gang member unprepared. Know something about them. Research their resume, which is their criminal background.

Do your homework as they have done theirs! Most law enforcement do not think gang members know anything about them. You would be surprised. Also, they know the law, and much better than most criminal justice professionals.

Review the current file, NCIC/rap sheet, past reports and any gang files.

Become familiar with their street gang, prison gang or criminal organization. Do not be afraid to ask them questions about who they represent, or what particular "ink" means to them.

Know the cultural background of the gang member. With gangs like MS-13, Dominican Gangs, or Russian Gangs operating inside the United States, you must have an idea of their culture to understand them.

Check pre-sentence reports.

Check their prison and jail files.

Review any past parole and probation files.

Check computerized gang networks.

Speak to investigators, officers and other staff members that may be familiar with them. One of the biggest mistakes law enforcement makes is not sharing information.

Be aware of games and manipulation. Law Enforcement does not think anyone can coerce, blackmail, or manipulate them. They are very good at getting inside your head.

Know more than the gang member thinks you do – this will allow you to be aware when they are lying to you or trying to manipulate you. Be aware of any legal concerns. Part of your interview preparation (homework) is to research current charges, pending sentences and other legal situations of the individual you are going to interview. If the individual has pending charges, you may want to consult with the prosecutor on the matter before the interview. Also check your agency's policy on interviewing charged suspects or consult your legal advisor.

Always record the interview for your protection. How or when the recording is used is up to you. You are conducting these interviews for the safety of your department, and security of the facility. Any other information is secondary and not the original intent. Consider these pointers during the interview:

  • Choose the best location.
  • Have as few people in the room as possible.
  • Avoid taking too many notes.
  • Show mutual respect, be firm but fair.
  • Do not rush.
  • Control the direction of the interview
  • Be prepared to call the inmate's bluff.
  • Be patient if you must end the interview. Nine times out of ten, gang members will request to talk to you again.
  • Keep your questions relevant to gang-related information such as tattoos (ink), neighborhood boundaries, enemies, alliances, membership, graffiti and codes used.
  • Do not mention the current charge/crime.
  • Remind the inmate not to talk about the current case. If the inmate insists on talking about the case, remind the inmate of their Miranda rights.
  • If the inmate starts to talk about criminal activities they are involved in, but you did not ask the question, let them run at the mouth. Stay away from follow-up questions in this area, so that it cannot be construed you solicited the information. Return to your general gang questions.

Take the questioning as far as you need to and don't let them be vague. For example:

Q - Where are you from? (This can also mean what gang or neighborhood)

A - California

Q - Where in California?

A – Los Angeles

Q - Where in Los Angeles? (It's a BIG place!)

A – Normandie Avenue in South Central

Q - What Barrio, Neighborhood, or Set (ask according to suspected gang lingo)

A – Off Century Bl

Q - What clique?

A- Normandie

Q - What do they call you? What else to they call you? What else do you go by?

A – Cuete (Gun in Spanish)

Q - Why Cuete

A – I like guns

Continue if you can to back up the information

How It Begins:

It starts when you call out at your station or location on the street. You talk to your dispatcher to advise where you are. In the police academy we are taught command presence. However,

when you walk into that interview room, or make that street stop, it's that first impression

that will make or break you

Your introduction is very important, because it is their response you are looking for. For instance, instead of saying, "I'm Det. Avendorph with the Prince George's County Police, and I want to talk to you. They already know you are the police, and the word want indicates demanding their attention.

Instead, introduce yourself by saying, "Hello, I'm Tony Avendorph; nice to meet you! Or "Hello, Mr. Gang Member, I'm Tony Avendorph, and shake their hand. Several things occur. First, they do not see you as the police; they see you as you. Secondly, there is no adversarial dialogue.

And third, you are getting your point across…. Professionally

Subject Interview:

There are three parts to the subject interview:

  • Preparation
  • Inquiry
  • Documentation

You must prepare for questions by the gang member. Criminal Justice professionals do not like the suspect to ask them questions. Why not; it's open dialogue!

They may ask you:

  • Who are you?
  • Why me?
  • Do I need a lawyer?
  • Why should I cooperate?
  • (Gun in Spanish)
  • Who else will know I spoke to you?
  • What happens after I leave?

Let them ask the questions, answer them, and establish that you are in control.

What is debriefing? Debriefing is a conversation which is non-accusatory in nature and seeks useful and/or actionable intelligence. You are attempting to talk to the suspect in a non- threatening environment. Debriefing candidates include:

  • New arrests
  • Those incarcerated awaiting trials
  • Those convicted and awaiting transfer
  • Probationers and parolees
  • Crime victims
  • Letter writers or walk in's
  • Basically ANYONE!

Whether it is a debriefing, an interview, or interrogation there should be a maximum two interviewers in the room.

Even though other investigators are watching your interview being videotaped, there is an officer safety issue. Even though the suspect is handcuffed to the wall or a bar inside the room something could happen.

There should be a primary interviewer and a note taker. You should always talk over the goals you are trying to achieve before you enter the interview room. Agree on the tactics you are going to employ and use non-verbal signals to interact or even take a break.

There are several factors that contribute to the automatic failure of a debriefing:

  • Impatience- You cannot be in a hurry
  • Arrogance- Leave it a home
  • Disinterest- Go home when the work is over
  • A Bad First Impression- That's on you!

An interview is a process used to gain information with a purpose. Now you are going into more depth to gain intelligence. You can conduct interviews anywhere, but we are going to focus on the street and room interviews.

Street Interviews:

When conducting street interviews never refer to the gang members neighborhood by using:

  • Hood
  • Ghetto
  • Slum
  • Barrio/Varrio


Any interview you conduct is the "gut" of the investigation. Always know where your audience is, and you must know the streets.

When you debrief or interview a gang member on the street, you are on their "turf." There are other gang members, family members, and friends/sympathizers you may have to deal with.

You dictate how and where the interview takes place. Well-lit areas, and if you feel too cautious, there is the next day. Even you are the authority, it is their environment. Do not talk

like "Police." They expect it!

What Works:

  • Always be friendly and professional
  • Always look for the "hook." This can be the gang members children, their vehicle, their clothes, and even their dog
  • Be empathetic
  • Emphasize your only looking for the truth,
  • Appeal to their code, which is "No Snitching, or talking with police"
  • Use the art of the filibuster, or the art of non-stop talking
  • Attempt to go for the one big question
  • Ask if they have questions; show concern
  • Let them tell their story
  • Work on their hostility. Try to reduce it

TONY'S TIP: Always recognize gang members may have someone on the inside, who can give them access to their documentation, or your personal business.

Street interviews are lengthier than debriefings. You must be careful when interviewing gang members on the street. If you stop six gang members, you must treat each one the same for the same length of time. You never separate them, because the others will think that one is a

"snitch." When interviewing multiple gang member's position their back to the other gang

members so there is no eye contact. You have to multi-task, because you are watching your interviewee and from your peripheral, the others.

You want to make them a "non-risk" by searching them thoroughly and sitting them along the

curb or on the ground, legs crossed and hands on their laps or behind their head with fingers interlaced.

This is a good street stop of MS-13 gang members. Only one officer is taking notes, while the rest are containing the gang members.

The Interview Room:

The Interview Room should be set up with a table and three chairs. The best position inside the room is the "L" shape configuration. The interviewee is seated at the top of the "L" and the interviewers at the bottom and extension point.

An option is not using the table but utilizing the "L" for the chairs. The distance between the interviewers and interviewee should be "friendly" for conversational purposes.

The props for the interview are a pad and pen for the note taker. The more paperwork or files you bring into the interview becomes a distraction for the gang member.

Don't bring the case file period, because they will want to know what is in it.

You may want to have a smaller note pad, because in some cases you may ask the interviewee to write something down. For instance, if you cannot speak Spanish and the gang member speaks limited English, or you cannot understand something they said, ask them to write it down. Hang an "Interview in Progress" sign outside the door. This is important. Never allow anyone to enter your interview unannounced. Tell your co-workers where you are, and if someone needs you tell them to knock and you go to the door. No cell phones! If there is a clock on the wall take it off the wall or cover it. No distractions!

There is nothing wrong with offering the interviewee a bathroom break, cold drink, nothing HOT, or a snack. But do it at the first or second break.

Explain the reason for the interview. Do not say, "Do you know why you're here?" That makes it look like you do not know. Gang members will play dumb when asked that question. If your interview is to obtain information on their gang affiliation, and they are incarcerated on an existing charge, tell them "We are not here to talk about what you are accused of!" "I or We need your help."

"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember what you said." This is a meaningful quotation, whether you are inside the interview room or in your personal life. Gang members LIE! That is their job. So how do you know someone is lying?

When they give negative responses to your questions is a clue. The glue to hold your interview together is controlling your temper when it happens. You can never let them see you upset!

Remember you must learn to analyze a subject during an interview by speech, mannerisms, or behavior

There are signs of deception:

  • The eyes moving to the right or left
  • Parroting, or throwing the question back at you
  • Grooming
  • Shifting in the chair means nervousness
  • Is there a barrier?

There are seven indicators of lying:

  • Uncommon body contact- Foot tapping, fidgety hands, hand to the face… Remember
  • Bill Clinton with his hands in front of his face like he was praying
  • No eye contact- If the interviewee does not keep eye contact during 50% of the interview
  • Change in voice- A change in the pitch of a person's tone, or a lot of stammering (umm, ah), or throat clearing could indicate a lie.
  • Contradictory statements- Inconsistent or don't sound quite right are usually part of a lie.
  • Overly defensive- Refusing to answer any questions and even accusing you of lying.
  • Changes subject- If someone is lying and you change the subject; chances are high that they'll go right along with it. A person telling the truth, however, will likely ask why you changed the subject and want to go back to it.
  • Humor or sarcasm.

Signs of Drug Use:

  • Red watery eyes
  • Runny nose could mean use of heroin or morphine
  • Red or inflamed nostrils means usage of cocaine or meth (snorting)
  • Licking lips could mean meth use
  • Perspiration could mean meth use, or nervousness
  • Long sleeves could mean track marks
  • The hand shaking may mean meth use
  • Sunglasses may mean hiding swollen or red eyes
  • Slurred speech could mean drug or alcohol usage

There is no time for behavioral analysis; Gang members are not normal!

Remember to expect lies from everyone. Most suspects will give two types of objections:

  • A vague objection such as "I am a Christian," or "I wasn't brought up that way."
  • An alibi… "I was at home; I wasn't there"

Most people lie because they are afraid. Gang members lie just because….

Remember you will never get a second chance to make a first impression. Develop rapport from the very first eye contact with the gang member and the relationship will be easier to maintain.

Request the gang member to sit down. Never make it an order and be pleasant. Let your body language show the person the seat.

Try to understand different ethnic culture. Sharing an interest and some knowledge will develop additional connections.

You want them to see you as an ally, so show empathy, where it applies. Be enthusiastic but don't oversell what you are trying to accomplish. Find a common ground or mutual interest.

After Hurricane Katrina the Washington, DC area became slightly inundated with gang members from New Orleans, Louisiana. We received information that there was a new gang member processed into the Department of Corrections. When he came into the interview room, he was arrogant, and he attempted to intimidate us. We asked him to sit down, calm down, and we weren't there to harass him. I asked him what ward he lived in New Orleans? He looked at me and asked what I knew about New Orleans.

I told him my mother was born in New Orleans and I still have relatives there. He had a "504" tattoo on his arm, and I asked if he was "504" gang member. He smiled, and I asked him if he knew how to make gumbo. He looked at me again and said yes. I asked him what the color of a seafood gumbo roux was, and he answered dark chocolate, which is correct. We exchanged recipes, and he not only became cooperative he became a confidential source. Why; we had something in common.

"Difficult people aren't bad from a distance; it's when you have to deal with them personally." The difficult person will not do what you want the first time you ask. They will argue, and they will use the word, "Why?"

God gave us two ears and one mouth, so he must have meant for us to do twice as much listening vs. talking. When we interview, we talk too much? We give opinions. Do you really think the gang member cares about your opinion? No!

You should phrase questions properly for success. Ask questions that a person will feel comfortable with to answer.

Questions should start with Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why, which makes the answers easier. Don't use police "Jargon" or terms with gang members. They probably know it anyway. Avoid complex wording; they can be confusing and alienating to the gang member and you!

Use positive language like, "I appreciate it." Or "Thanks," or motivating words like good, great, or excellent.

Body and Facial Language:

Body Language and Facial Expression can always assist you during an interview or interrogation. We all have body language, and at times we don't even know when we are doing it. On the street, or inside an interview room, our body language can give the gang member a decided edge in not answering questions or telling the truth.

One our body language can go against us is how we are dressed. When working gangs, it is not cool for the gang investigator to dress like one. For patrol officers, it is the sharpness of their uniforms and how they carry themselves. A Blood gang member told me once, that he will not attempt to try an officer whose uniform is clean and sharp, because that officer has probably been inside the military and they are disciplined.

Your non verbal communication can be an issue. If you are acting impatient, or roll your eyes, the gang member will see that as a sign of weakness.

Non verbal communication is when police place their hands on their holster or grip the top of their ballistic vests. It is a sign you are trying to intimidate the gang member/suspect.

Watch your head and hands. We are taught to always watch the suspect's hands, because hands kill. If you are not holding your head straight, you are not listening or paying attention to what is being said, or you look disinterested.

Here are some examples to look for when interviewing or interrogating gang members:

  • Jaw Tightening signifies tension. This can be the suspect is tense and may become combative. The Head Tilt can mean, I'm comfortable, receptive, and friendly, or being around people we do not like or do not trust.
  • Squinting Eyes designates anger, or we don't like something we're told. Eye Blocking means "I don't like what I just heard." Eyelids Compress means the suspect is blocking out you and what you are saying. Looking Sideways is distrust, and the Real vs. Fake Smile means caring/not close to you.

Asian gang members are very good with the fake smile.

The Productive Gang Interview and What Works (The Baseline):

There are rules

  • Regardless of your personal feelings, be respectful and express an interest in what the subject has to say
  • Do not prompt or coach the subject to answer your questions
  • If they don't know the answer to your question move on to the next one
  • Don't try to impress the subject with your knowledge of gangs
  • Remember, an interview is not about you – it's about them

The Difficult and Hostile Interview:

You will have that gang member who is hostile. It maybe they hate the police or are "A real gangster." The definition of a real gangster is they will not rat on a fellow gang member, they are down with their set, or they have a background of assault on law enforcement.

So, you throw them a curve ball. Say Hello, ask their name (you already known that), identify yourself, and tell them why you NEED to talk to them. Ask for compliance; If they refuse, give them the reasons. Explain departmental policy and your rules. If they still refuse, present options.

"If you do what I ask," tell them what's in it for them. If they still refuse, confirm the refusal and attempt to compromise.

Is there anything I can say to you at this time to get you to cooperate with me? Repeat your request, and say, "I'd sure like to think that there is."

There were times I got nowhere. On one occasion I had a Federal transfer inmate from St. Louis, Missouri. I was told he was a Crip, and because of his background, he was placed by himself and away from general population. When my partner and I entered the interview, I introduced us, and he simply had a blank stare. I kept asking simple questions, and all he had was a blank stare, that said "leave me alone." This was a very big man, who bench pressed over 500 pounds.

I took out a piece of paper, and my partner and I began playing tic tac do. The Crip finally spoke and said what are you doing, why am I here.

So, I said can you play. The Crip said, "it's tic tac do." So, I said if you beat me, I leave. If I win, you answer my questions. After the sixth game, he made a mistake and I got him. We ordered pizza and interviewed him for three hours.

Believe it or not, he’s smiling


In the first two principals, debriefing and interview, the Miranda Warning is not necessary, unless during the debriefing or interviewing process the gang member divulges pertinent information regarding a crime. The Miranda Warning is a warning given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial interrogation) before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings.

The interrogation takes place if a person is questioned by the police while they are in custody.

The term custody usually refers to situations in which that the person has been placed under formal arrest, or the person's freedom of movement has been so restrained that the situation has risen to the level of a formal arrest. It is designed to find the truth.

I have found that since the gang member will lie give them the opportunity to tell the truth by allowing them to continue to lie and counterattack with the knowledge and information you have at your disposal.

War is a game of deception. When you are interrogating a suspect, it is a war of the mind. Musashi said, "If one is able and strong then one should disguise oneself to appear inept and weak."


"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember what you said." The reason people don't tell the truth is they are afraid! There are several Indicators of lying:

  • The hands! If the hands are closed it's an indication that suspect is praying, you don't find out the truth. The use of self-soothing techniques such as ear tugging, neck touching, collar pulling, or mouth covering
  • Changes in vocal pitch
  • Unusual blinking or fidgeting
  • The use of fewer first-person words such as "I."
  • A decreased tendency to use emotional words, such as hurt or angry
  • Difficulty making eye contact when speaking, or shifty eyes
  • Inconsistent gestures or facial expressions that contrast with message content
  • They become aggressive
  • Open Posture
  • Nervousness
  • Story. Former President Clinton would tell a story so he would not have to answer a question
  • Test
  • Y (Why?)

As the interrogator, you will try a "ruse" at times to obtain the information you want. When you are ready to attack, you must convey the impression that you will not attack. When you are close to breaking your suspect, pretend you are far, but you must give the illusion you are close.

The Confrontational Approach:

The confrontational approach forces the suspect to initially deny his involvement in the incident under investigation. The gang member who lies causes a rift with their interrogators, and the direct accusation and confrontational approach encourages the suspect to make an emotional decision to confess.

Gang members will deny until the sun goes down, and Law Enforcement gets upset when gang members lie. Let them lie…. You do not want an emotional confession, because it lessens the

possibility of the truthful confession. But the investigator will have to re-accuse due to the denials.

The Non-Confrontational Approach:

Gang members are not afraid or intimidated by law enforcement, and they are experts at reading behavior.

They intimidate and create fear in their community and use the powers of observation through street survival. It places gang members into a situation where they immediately can deny their involvement in a crime, and they await a direct accusation that never occurs. They cannot control the situation!

Every interrogation must include three questions:

Did you, do it? I have used this as my first question when I know beyond a doubt that suspect did it. This phrase can be used several times to catch them off guard

  • Did you lie to me earlier? This is a trust factor after admission
  • Is there anything else you think is important for me to know that we haven't discussed yet? This leaves room in the suspects mind you know more

You must know how to confront your suspect without intimidating them. You must know how to present your suspect with the reasons they committed the crime. And you must get your confessions in a written statement, by audio, and/or video.

Just like the first impression the closing is important. Your goal whether you are debriefing, interviewing, or interrogating, you try to "flip" everybody as a confidential source. Thank them whether they cooperate or not. Shake their hand; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Ask them if there is anything else, they want to say or contribute. If they are not in custody, you personally walk them out, and if the suspect is in custody and was transported to your office walk to the transport vehicle with them.

I said earlier that gang members are different. They use street talk or gang slang, and you should learn it, because it is valuable intelligence.

When you are trying to illicit information from a gang member, they play the proverbial "nut roll" or they pretend or deny they don't know what you are talking about. Asking questions that will get their attention accompanied by the fact these questions will illicit their curiosity. The Queens English does not apply here.

  • Where you from?
  • Who you claim?
  • Who you roll wit (not with)?
  • What set/clique you claim?
  • What neighborhood you from?
  • How long you been bang' in?
  • What color you flag?
  • What else do people call you (don't use nickname or street name?
  • Show me your ink! Act interested and if is well done, compliment them. IT WORKS!!

These methods work well with gang members:

  • Second guessing membership by asking; "What would you be doing if you weren't a gang member?" …. "When you were in jail, who came to visit you?" "Was it your real family or your homeboys/home girls?"
  • Sell out method which shows the parallels of being a law enforcement officer and being in a gang. Talk about why you became a police officer or correctional officer, and that you thought all cops were like you, but saw some as being arrogant or even disrespectful.
  • For example, "I thought all police were honest and respectful, but I found that some I met weren't" "Do you feel that way with your friends?" "Are they trustworthy like you?" ….. Or "Would they stand up for you or give you up if they had the chance?"
  • Enemy ploy, which pits them against their enemies. It could be a rival gang member, or someone within their gang who has done them harm. For instance, "I need your help with putting this guy in jail, so he can't hurt anyone else or cause additional problems."
  • The educate tactic, which entails talking about the gang; its history, colors, and other non-criminal intelligence information. This is a friendly conversation piece, because it enables you to bring the gang member out of their shell.
  • Knowledge or a little knowledge goes a long way is a way to make the gang member begin talking. If a gang member sees that you know just a little about their gang, that peek their interest. If you can educate a gang member about an issue they don't know, they will cooperate because if their gang asks a question and they do not know, they are subject to punishment.
  • The Baby Mama line works. Gang members are protective of loved one's male and female alike. Show concern about their welfare. For instance, "Who is going to take care of your woman and child while you're incarcerated?" "Are the homies going to?" I had a source with 11 children by six different women. I knew where each girlfriend lived, worked, their telephone numbers, and where his children attended school.
  • Avoiding the "What gang are you with" question. It slows your interview/debriefing.
  • Don't say, "Do you know why you are here."
  • Let's talk about your gang move. Tell the gang member their information is essential to help themselves. For instance, "You've got valuable information, but it could be better.

The prosecutor needs more to help you!"

Never tell a gang member that you will not talk about their gang. This is paramount, because the gang is probably the main reason they are in trouble.

The author interviewing a Bloods gang member in 2009

One aspect any criminal justice professional could face in their careers is lawsuits. Always err on the side of caution when you are facing your suspect in that interview room. Do not discuss sex, including the discussion of sexual content in books or movies.

During a search warrant it is not uncommon to recover sex tapes, or if your case involves prostitution, make sure you remain focused and not make "off color" comments. Always stick with procedure!

Back to follow up! Live up to your commitment to follow up with the person you have debriefed, interviewed, or interrogated. Follow up whether you had a positive conversation or not.

You never know if his status or motivations will change, and he/she will call you. If you leave your telephone number write it on a piece of paper without your name because if their associates find it, he/she can play it off, and never give them your business card.

Conducting investigative interviewing over the telephone is much different from doing it in person. While doing an investigative interview in person is ideal, you don't always have the option of flying across the country to do an interview.

The difference with doing a telephone interview is that there is an inherent sense of mistrust. In most cases, the person on the other end of the line doesn't know you and can be completely freaked out about how you got his or her name and number. You don't really have much time to develop a rapport, so you've got to get to the point quickly.

You've typically got one shot to get an interview, so here are some tips to make it your best shot:

1.Be open and honest about the reason for your call. You don't have to tell the person every detail, but enough that the person will feel comfortable talking to you.

2.Try asking a question at the beginning to get the person to talk. "I understand that you previously worked for the Washington Redskins?" Don't you hate when you get a call about the

Dallas Cowboys? This breaks the ice a little.

3.Don't give the person an out. Never ask, "Is this an appropriate time to talk?" nine times out of ten, people will ask you to call them back later. That may be the last time you ever talk to them.

4.Call from a blocked number, at least at the beginning. That contradicts the "open and honest" tip, but people aren't stupid. If you saw five missed calls from an investigator wouldn't you get a bit nervous? You don't want the person avoiding you before you have had a chance to do the interview.

5.Let them talk. Even if they aren't answering the questions you want them to, let them talk.

You can always ask follow-up questions.

6.Only leave messages after calling a few times.

7.Take good notes. It's kind of awkward asking someone if you can record a conversation when you haven't even set the stage. Legally recording phone calls requires that you know which state they are in, which is another awkward question to ask when you are trying to interview someone.

8.Don't have a word-for-word interview script. Scripts can ruin the flow of an interview. It does help to at least have some broad talking points and topics that you need to cover.

9.Listen. It seems obvious, but listening is the most important thing in an interview.

10."Would you mind if I called you back if I had some other questions?" It's always a clever idea to end the interview with this question. It opens the door for any follow-up questions.

11.After the interview, it's a promising idea to provide your contact information. The person will feel more comfortable about whom they are talking to, and if they needed to, they could follow up if they remember something else. And they will be more open to follow-up later.

12.Immediately following the interview, review your notes and add comments. Better yet, write a memorandum. The sooner the better, before you forget all the details.

The Closing:

Try to "flip" them. Look for weaknesses. In fact, you're goal in any interview is getting them to give up their crime, and crimes you may not know about. Holding a misdemeanor over their heads is one way you can build rapport.

Thank them whether they cooperate or not. Lose your humility. Your goal is information or obtaining the truth.

Shake their hand. They see a different side of you. They have a negative perception of police

Ask if there is anything else, "Is there anything else I need to know, or Is there anything else you want to tell me.:

Personally, walk them out. Even if patrol is there to transport, walk them to the transport team. It's all about rapport.

Staying out of Trouble or Using Common Sense:

Make no exceptions. Always err on the side of caution. We worry about videotaping, internal affairs, and lawsuits.

Do not discuss sex, including the discussion of sexual content in books or movies. If you are a male interviewing a female, always have a woman officer in the room with you. If a female gang member asks a sensitive question, such as "Am I pretty to you, or Are you watching my breasts?" answer this way. "All of God's creations are beautiful" or I'm looking at you."

Don't use "off color" language or jokes. If you are a White officer, don't act or talk Black. If you are a Black officer interviewing a White gang member, be conscious of off-color racial inferences. No matter how much the gang member insults, curses, or bemeans you, never use racial epithets. If you have to excuse yourself from the room.

Tony's Tip: If you get frustrated, or need a break, always say, "Let's take a break." Ask if they need a bathroom break, or if they want water or soda pop. Never anything HOT!!

More Tips:

One of the biggest negatives law enforcement faces is not understanding cultures. Today's street gang culture is comprised of members born outside the United States. However, what is most troubling, is law enforcement don't understand its own cultures. Most police academies are ten to thirty weeks depending on the size of the jurisdiction, and one thing they do not teach is how to assimilate around different ethnicities.

If a White police officer has never been around African-American's, Latinos, or Asian people, once they are thrust into that environment, things don't always work out for the best. There is

a certain stereotype that minorities commit the most crimes, and Latinos should not be in the United States.

Interviewing Ethnicities:

African-American Gang Members:

If you did not grow up in the "hood" never use the word in the interview room. Every gang member I have grown up with, interviewed, or arrested has been proud of where they came from. Do not use "black" slang, no matter who you are. What must be understood is gang members study you and analyze your weaknesses. Do not call a Crip "cuz," because you know that is what they call each other. Most African-American gangs have sayings they don't want law enforcement to know. For instance, if you ask a Blood gang member, "When did you come home," it means when were you jumped in. That can prove to be a benefit for you, because it tells the gang member that you know something about Blood literature. But do not overdo it!

Never use racial epithets, even if the gang member does. If you have thin skin, get out of the interview room and let someone else interview.

Always ask the gang member, "What do you want to be called?" Do not assume.

Interviewing African or Afro-Caribbean gang members can be very daunting. Nigerian or Sierra Leone gang members look down on American African Americans and will talk down to them. You must immediately let them know where they are, and who you are! DON'T ACT BLACK EVEN IF YOU ARE!!

Latino Gang Members:

Puerto Rican gang members speak Spanish but are United States citizens based on Puerto Rico being an American territory. They a very Street savvy and believe in "Boricua," which is a Puerto Rican living in the United States and they are proud of their heritage.

Mexican gang members believe in a code and distinct set of traditions, rules, and taboos. However, there is a link between Mexican gangs and Central American gangs today.

Central American gang members are very defiant and mistrust law enforcement with conviction. When interviewing Central American gang members like MS-13 or Barrio 18, law enforcement in their countries mean nothing to them.

Dominican gangs have an intricate and organized hierarchal structure and are polygamous and values loyalty.

Asian Gangs:

Southeast Asian Gangs, which consist of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, and Laotian cultures are more of your street gang variety in the United States. The are proud due to the belief in the model minority youth. They join gangs because of the functions provided by the gang, and they want to be "Americanized." Southeast Asian gang members rarely talk and are very loyal to their gang and their community, even though they prey on them.

Korean, Chinese, and Japanese gangs are on the level of organized crime. Korean and Chinese gangs have a street gang component within their structure but are controlled by Triads and Jopok (organized crime).

Russian Organized Crime:

Russian gang members are very manipulative. They feel superior to American law enforcement and will attempt to coerce and offer bribes. The key to interviewing Russian gang members is to sit very close to the suspect, where your knee almost touches theirs. Engage them in small talk, and once you get them to converse, ask them something they like, such as sports, or even different types of Vodka. They can be aggressive at times, and a key to their mentality is their "ink," which will tell their criminal specialty. 

Officer Safety:

The number one focus during any interview, whether it is in an interview room, the street, or in the backseat of your vehicle is officer safety. There is a difference between maintaining your edge and allowing the suspect to be too comfortable.

Do not wear your badge where it is visible to the suspect. They know you are the police, and the badge can be intimidating and turn them off from speaking with you.

If you bring a notebook into the interview room, do not sit it on the table or where the suspect can see it. They will stare at the notebook and think there is something about them in it. On the initial entrance into the interview room, do not bring any writing materials. Get to know the suspect without them thinking you are going to write down everything they say. When you decide when the first break will be, tell the suspect that you will bring a notebook into the interview/interrogation, and you will record several important answers to your questions. A second measure may be bringing your notebook into the room initially, but setting it underneath your chair, so neither of you can see it.

Always have two in the interview room. If the suspect is a female, locate a woman officer to sit with you. Develop hand signals, so when the lead interviewer may stumble or loses their train of thought, the second officer gives a signal to pick up the interview. Also research the suspect to see if they have been interviewed in the past by another officer. Sometimes the suspect will mention an officer they feel comfortable with. If so, find that officer and pick their brain, or have them sit in the room with you.

On the street always have backup, even if you know the gang member and have rapport.

Always Remember:

You'll never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Develop rapport from the very first contact.

Request the person to sit down… Don't order

Don't let your body language ruin your interview or interrogation

Remember your interviews are tape recorded

Get them to talk about shared interests

Make a hospitable offering, but never ever promise a gang member anything, tell them you will talk to the State's Attorney, and any deal is up to them. Know the Assistant State's Attorney assigned to your case and give their name.

Make frequent use of their given name, unless you have prior rapport and an understanding with them.

One of the most important aspects of communicating with others is understanding yourself. It is nearly impossible to understand others if you lack confidence in yourself. In the everyday context of law enforcement, we interview someone numerous times in one day. Whether it's a traffic stop, street stop, or inside the interview room, know your strengths as well as your limitations.


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