New Position Paper Links Cognitive Interviewing To “Fair, Objective” OIS Investigations

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An unusual collaboration between a former police psychologist, a senior deputy city attorney, and an internationally known researcher has resulted in a new position paper that strongly encourages agencies to use the special techniques of “cognitive interviewing” when taking statements from officers who survive shootings.

Interrogating officers in the same traditional manner as criminal suspects “is counterproductive” and does not accurately reflect the officers’ unique status, the report warns. Instead, “specialized procedures” are justified in post-shooting interviews to ensure that officers are “provided with fair, neutral, and objective investigations.”

Investigators “must be skilled in effectively mining the memory” of involved officers “in such a way as to maximize the ‘take’ ” from interviews in order to reconstruct a complete and accurate picture of a deadly encounter, the paper states.

Unfortunately however, the authors note, interview protocols in some jurisdictions “are less than ideal” for achieving this critical goal, even though the techniques for enhanced memory retrieval have been known to law enforcement for nearly 30 years.

“The position paper is short but emphatic in describing the need and benefits of cognitive interviewing,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute. “The authors’ statements are clear and strong, and they address issues that are seldom talked about, particularly the adversarial atmosphere that so often—and so unnecessarily—contaminates officer interviews and impedes the recovery of complete and accurate information.”

The paper, “A Good-Practice Approach to Officer-Involved Shooting Investigations,” can be accessed in full through CLICKING HERE.


The document was written by James Wilson, police legal advisor and senior deputy city attorney for Modesto, CA; Dr. Edward Geiselman, a psychology professor at UCLA; and Dr. Alexis Artwohl, formerly a clinical and police psychologist in the Pacific Northwest.

The 3 began discussing the benefits of cognitive interviewing at a recent certification class in Force Science Analysis where Wilson was a student and Geiselman and Artwohl were on the faculty. During a series of email communications afterward, they decided that a position paper that would combine their respective perspectives—Wilson as a litigator who handles the defense of police misconduct claims, Artwohl as a clinician, trainer, and frequent debriefer of critical incidents, and Geiselman as a memory researcher who pioneered the art of cognitive interviewing—might be uniquely persuasive to agencies that have not yet embraced these questioning techniques in OIS investigations.


Geiselman and a fellow behavioral scientist, Dr. Ron Fisher, developed cognitive interviewing techniques beginning in the mid-1980s and have since seen them accepted by a variety of progressive agencies, particularly for dealing with crime victims and civilian witnesses.

In contrast to the high-pressure, accusatory approach often taken with criminal suspects, investigators trained in cognitive interviewing rely heavily on rapport building and memory stimulation in a relaxed, collaborative atmosphere. They encourage free-flowing narratives by the interviewee, favor open-ended questions, minimize interruptions, and employ a variety of proven methods for tapping hard-to-surface memories.

As the position paper explains, this “systematic approach based on scientifically derived principles of memory and communication theory” has been found in a wealth of research studies “to produce significantly more information than standard police questioning.” And it is “legally acceptable to the courts.”

The problem, Geiselman recently told Force Science News, is that in conducting OIS investigations, agencies often approach surviving officers as if they are suspects. “Investigators often are adversarial,” he says, “assuming that the involved officer has something to hide until proven otherwise, focusing on finding evidence of negligence or wrongdoing, and shutting down responses that don’t fit their hypothesis of what happened.”

In the language of the position paper, involved officers commonly “approach OIS investigations with a degree of trepidation,” which is reinforced by this “toxic atmosphere.”


Rather than automatically receiving the suspect treatment, the paper argues, officers who survive shootings should be accorded some “specialized procedures” because their status is complex and unique in the criminal justice system. Simultaneously they are:

  1. Subjects who “could potentially face criminal indictment” if their actions are found not to be objectively reasonable, given the totality of circumstances;
  2. Employees who were “just doing their jobs” but now are involved in “internal investigations that can put their jobs on the line”;
  3. “Witnesses to crimes committed by suspects” who attempted to harm them and/or civilians;
  4. Victims of violent crimes or life-threatening actions; and
  5. At risk for “becoming embroiled in political controversy, …no matter how justified the use of force.”

It is “crucially important that use-of-force investigators be trained to recognize that officers who have been involved” in an OIS are “professionals who have been trained, equipped, and sent out onto the street to deal with ‘critical incidents’ on society’s behalf, and who have just witnessed and experienced such an incident” in discharging their duty, the authors emphasize.


The “good-practice” goal of any OIS investigation is to collect “all available data on exactly what constituted the ‘totality of the circumstances confronting the officer’ at the time the decision to use deadly force was made,” the position paper states. That includes obtaining “as complete and accurate an understanding of the involved officer’s perception of those circumstances as is possible.”

With cognitive interviewing skills, investigators are armed with “a toolbox of specific techniques” that will help them elicit information “as truly objective fact-gatherers,” the authors say.

Their paper itemizes key elements of the cognitive interviewing “template” that contrast with “standard police questioning routines.” Specifically:

  • Cognitive interviewing features a “rapport-development phase” before the involved officer offers his statement. At this time, everyone’s role is explained, the officer is encouraged to expend effort to remember events in as much detail as possible, and an atmosphere is established in which the officer is relaxed and reassured, committed to working with the interviewer as a team to elicit as much information as possible.
  • Solicitation of information is interviewee-centered rather than interviewer-centered. The involved officer does most of the talking, recounting in narrative form what he can remember without frequent interruptions, leading questions, or demands for short answers to narrowly limited questions. (Besides producing more complete and accurate data, the cognitive interviewing approach generally offers some “therapeutic” benefit to the officer because he feels “heard and understood,” Geiseilman told Force Science News.)
  • The interviewer employs “reliable memory-enhancement techniques” for maximum mining of the officer’s memory. After the officer presents as complete a narrative as he believes possible, for example, he may be asked to repeat his chronology in reverse, a device that almost always surfaces “forgotten” information.
  • Follow-up questions are carefully positioned so as not to be interruptive and in general favor open-ended phrasing; for example, “Tell me more about….”

In addition to establishing the facts of the shooting, it’s critical to use cognitive interviewing techniques to clarify the involved officer’s “state of mind” regarding threat assessment and force options as the incident evolved, the paper points out. Recreating the officer’s emotional status during the event can be a key element of the “totality of circumstances” that led to the deadly force decision.

The paper advises that not only should investigators be trained in cognitive interviewing but an agency’s officers should be thoroughly familiarized with the process and its techniques as well, including instruction in how to “provide a complete, accurate, and cogent account” explaining their force decisions.

Involved officers and their agencies “are forced to live with” statements provided to OIS investigators, the report reminds. Filling in the blanks later with additions and clarifications “can be problematic” and “viewed with suspicion” and may become “a major issue in civil litigation” arising from a shooting.

Consequently, it’s “best to maximize the information obtained in the initial, and perhaps only, interview that the involved officer may provide, and to accurately and completely memorialize it in the investigative report”—a job made infinitely easier with skillfully employed cognitive techniques.

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.