The Golden Nugget
Every now and then we are fortunate to find a golden nugget in life; a discovery that makes us exclaim, “That is awesome!” Which is quickly followed with the thought, “why haven’t I known about this before now?!” That is exactly how I felt when I stumbled onto Statement Analysis. I was 20 years into my law enforcement career at the time, and I literally felt as though I had been cheated for 20 years without it! That day marked a paradigm shift in my career.
Now, almost a decade later, we’ve taken Statement Analysis, or Forensic Linguistics as some call it, to the next level. Today, those properly trained and practiced in Statement Analysis, run at or near 100% accuracy in detecting deception. The untrained average varies between 50% - 70% accuracy, depending on experience. While that is fun and exciting, it is actually the easiest aspect of Statement Analysis. It is much more than just detecting deception or becoming a “walking polygraph” as some advertise. The fun really begins when we are able to glean information from the subject’s own words, that the subject did not intend to reveal. Our words reveal us, and that includes dominant personality traits, or the Psycho-Linguistic Profile, which we learn in advanced analysis. The profile is especially useful knowledge going into the interview. We are also using it in the hiring process, which saves the agency from spending money on law suits down the road. But that is a topic for another article.
Statement Analysis is a powerful tool we use to gain more confessions and increase our solve rate. Utilizing the principles of Statement Analysis, we know to use the subject’s own words during the interview, and, more importantly, we recognize from the subject’s own words where to focus our interview questions. Most deceptive people do not lie outright as it is stressful. Outright deception creates a cognitive dissonance within the brain, which equates to internal stress. Our brains are very adept at avoiding the internal stress of deception. Rather than tell an outright lie, most people leave information out via various linguistic methods. Investigators trained in Statement Analysis recognize those sensitive linguistic indicators and are then able to laser focus their interview questions to those sensitive areas. It is very effective. Often, the interviewee wonders, how did that cop know?
One of the phrases that students of today’s Statement Analysis often hear, is that we are entering into the subject’s Verbalized Perception of Reality. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that we are entering the subject’s mind to learn what he was actually thinking of when he uttered or wrote the words in his statement.
For example, during a criminal interview the suspect may be asked, “tell me in detail what happened.” By posing the question in this manner, the interviewer has not introduced any of his own thoughts or words. It is a “clean” question. The interviewee must now reach into his own personal and subjective dictionary and choose which words to use. The subject cannot tell us every little detail, as that would take hours. Therefore, the subject will choose which words to use, leaving most of them out. The subject will also choose which verb tenses to use, which order to place each word, the syntax, etc. All of this takes place in a micro-second of time and most of it is instinctual. Although the suspect may not cognitively tell us everything we want to know, we now have a pure statement, highly effective for analysis.
To the question we posed, the subject may answer, “I went to a pharmacy to get my meds and that’s all I know.” A good interviewer will recognize that the subject may have a different definition of pharmacy than the interviewer does. Therefore, the appropriate follow up question is: Tell me about the pharmacy. This is the first level in which we learn how the subject’s perception of reality may differ from ours. For most of us, when we hear the word pharmacy, we think of a Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart or whatever you have in your area of the world to fill a doctor’s prescription. For the subject addicted to pain meds or illegal drugs, a pharmacy may be an actual pharmacy, but it also might be the drug dealer’s house, or the guy at the park who sells prescription pills.
A favorite example for instruction came from Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When confronted about his illicit behavior with Monica, Bill Clinton stated, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” In Bill Clinton’s personal and subjective dictionary, the term sexual relations meant sexual intercourse. Oral sex was outside the scope of his definition of sexual relations. If Bill Clinton was subjected to a polygraph test, he would likely have passed if the polygraphist did not clarify what sexual relations meant to him. Bill Clinton later admitted that although he had been technically truthful, he had deceived the American people with his words.
Now, let’s unpack our subject’s answer a step further. We note that he ended the sentence with “…and that’s all I know.” It is obvious the subject is leaving out a lot of information such as; what time he went, who he was with, what happened before he went, how he got there, etc. By the subject saying, and that’s all I know, he is effectively saying; don’t ask me anymore questions because there are things I know but I do not want to tell you. We can conclude already, that our subject has guilty knowledge of the incident. He may not have personally committed a crime, but he does have knowledge of it. So, we dig a little deeper into the subject’s words. He has information we need, and his words will tell us.
In the subject’s answer, “I went to a pharmacy to get my meds, and that’s all I know” we note that he began his statement with the personal pronoun, “I.” He has placed himself psychologically in the statement, which is a good sign. As such, we know the subject will give us some credible information. Had he begun his statement without the pronoun I, we would know that he is creating psychological distance regarding going to a pharmacy and getting meds. It is already a sensitive topic for him. We always follow the pronouns as they are instinctive and powerful. Pronouns reveal much about the subject as well as relationships to others within the statement.
As we seek to understand more of our subject’s verbalized perception of reality, we go deeper into his thought process. There is one small word that provides insight into what he was thinking when he gave his short answer. We note the subject did not say, I went to the Walgreens to get my meds or name any other specific pharmacy. We must also note the subject did not say the pharmacy. Rather, our subject said, a pharmacy, which is a non-specific pharmacy. As we analyze statement after statement, we learn that the articles a and the, reveal much about the subject’s thoughts. The articles a and the, are not subject to interpretation. They are instinctive words, just like pronouns. The subject did not have to pause to ask, should I use the word a or the word the? If the subject said the pharmacy, we know he went to a specific pharmacy. By using the article a instead of the, we know that in the subject’s mind, he is thinking of more than one pharmacy.
Our brains formulate statements based upon all our knowledge. That is a wonderful thing for investigators that know how to use it to their advantage. In this case, the subject’s brain betrayed him, and we know that he was thinking about more than one pharmacy. The use of articles is instinctive. And as such, they do not lie. Now we know why the subject ended his statement with, “that’s all I know.” His thoughts were either focused on additional pharmacies he doesn’t want us to know about, or there is information regarding the drugs he calls “meds” that he does not want to share. Whatever the case, we now must consider there was time spent planning. We should follow up with questions and investigation regarding additional and previous offenses.
What do we know about our subject so far?
· With the use of the pronoun “I,” he has placed himself psychologically in the statement.
· He has guilty knowledge of the crime in question and possibly additional crimes.
· He has more than one pharmacy in mind, which is information he did not want to share. We must explore for additional and/or previous offenses.
· “That’s all I know” tells us that he has information he wants to withhold from us, but he is talking. As such, he is likely concerned that he will incriminate himself.
· If we ask the right questions and approach him in the right way (psycho-linguistic profile is very helpful at this stage), he is going to give us the information we need.
Although our subject gave us a short answer with the intention of not providing much information, he has actually revealed quite a bit. With each additional answer he gives, we will go deeper into his thought process, or in other words, deeper into his verbalized perception of reality.
It is estimated that up to 80% of all police cold files contain a latent confession within the linguistics. One example is the Joey Martin cold case. Joey went missing when he was 15 years old. He snuck out of the house around 10:30 PM one night to meet up with two friends, Alex & Daniel. The friends planned on drinking a few beers as they waited for a rare comet to pass through the sky that night. The next day, Joey wasn’t on the school bus and he was never seen again. Alex and Daniel said the waited for Joey until 11:00 PM, but he never showed up. Detectives interviewed Joey’s friends, family, local sex offenders, drug dealers etc. Joey was never seen again and all the investigative leads were exhausted.
The case went cold and was passed from one detective to another for seven years. During that seven years, hundreds of leads were investigated and re-investigated. The case was finally given to a new detective, who also re-investigated the case. The detective decided to re-examine all the interviews. Even though all the stories were congruent with each other, there were two words in Alex and Daniel’s transcripts that raised red flags. Alex told investigators, “I went home and I immediately went to bed.” Can you see a shorter way to say that sentence? Some of you may have noticed the word immediately is an extra word. It can be removed and the sentence will still be intact. It is an extra word that Alex used to unnecessarily accentuate the fact that he went to bed. Most people would just say, I went to bed. In fact, it is likely the detective would have never asked Alex, Did you immediately go to bed? There is a reason for every word the brain sends to the tongue. The average investigator tends to gloss over added words as long as the sentence makes sense. It is human nature. However, to the trained investigator, an extra word used unnecessarily is doubly important.
In Daniel’s interview, he stated, “we were all on foot.” If it was just Alex and Daniel on foot, the appropriate wording would be, we were both on foot, or, Alex and I were on foot. The word, all indicates there was more than two people present. This is a latent admission!
Armed with this new information, the detective confidently re-interviewed Daniel. There is a huge difference in the interview when we know with surety that the subject lied. That confidence is not there when we are interviewing simply as part of the investigation, seeking to obtain information we don’t have. The detective obtained a legally sound confession from Daniel based on Daniel’s own words. Daniel confessed that he and Alex killed Joey because he owed them money for drugs. Both suspects were convicted for Joey’s homicide. Joey’s family never gave up hope that his case would be solved. As it turned out, the golden nugget was in the case files the whole time.
As you can see by the simple examples in this article, Statement Analysis is a powerful tool for the criminal investigator. It is changing the dynamics of our investigations. The question is, will you let it change yours?
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