Investigative Interview: How to Conduct Witness Interview Remotely

Thanks to recent world events, doing an investigative review remotely is much more common. While it never pays to stay stuck with what worked in the past, remote interviews definitely have complications you might not face when meeting someone face to face. It’s critical to understand how effective investigative interview techniques translate to the remote setting and how to get what you need for that meeting. When professional investigators conduct remote reviews, we follow these best practices.

1. Be familiar with technology

In an in-person interview, technology failures and fumbles are problematic, but in a remote investigative review, they are catastrophic, even to the point of ending the interview just as the private investigator was getting to the truth.

Tools such as  Zoom, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Google Meet are as indispensable as our gadgets of the trade: GPS, drones, and cameras. It’s essential that you know how to use the equipment, can flawlessly do so, and understand some basic troubleshooting should the unforeseen arise.

2. Eliminate distractions before the investigative interview begins

During an interview, it is not the time to be dealing with a barking dog, lawn-mowing neighbor, or a child getting home from school. It’s critical that we anticipate these and other distractions and have systems in place to prevent them or address them with minimal disruption.

The same should be said for the witness’ home. Don’t forget to ask them if they’re alone and feel safe in their current location. Note their response to these questions as they could suggest that someone else is influencing the witness. Offer to reschedule if it appears the interviewee will not be able to concentrate or speak freely in their current setting.

3. Dress the part

A remote investigative review is not an opportunity to become lax about how you dress or groom yourself. If you shower, shave, or wear your shoes for an in-person interview, you should do so for a remote one. Some of this attention to detail may not translate across the virtual table. But it impacts the way you feel, and that translates to how you conduct the interview.

4. Take time to build rapport

This applies to any interview, but in the case of a remote interview, don’t be surprised if it takes more time to generate this level of trust and connection. Private investigators use subtle yet effective techniques such as body language mirroring to connect with an interviewee, a technique that is less effective through a computer screen.

Let the small talk continue a little longer, as this will also help you get a feel for how this person communicates. Transition slowly into the tougher questions to maintain some comfort level in your interviewee.

5. Evaluate trustworthiness

Are you talking to a person who is being open and honest? Do you need to use particular techniques to get to the truth? Credibility determinations are part of any interview. It’s not that much harder to see the tell-tell signs that someone may be lying when conducting remote interviews, and some of the more subtle ones you might miss, like demeanor, are less reliable in this setting anyway.

6. Talk to the advocate in advance

If an attorney or union rep will be on the call with you and the interviewee, this can cause additional challenges that you should address before the call. This is especially a concern if the counsel is not in the same room with the witness.

In an in-person interview, counsel can quickly interject if the interviewee starts to answer a question that counsel objects to because we’re all sitting around a table.

But in a remote investigative interview, this is much harder. And the interviewee deserves the same protection. Counsel may be uncomfortable with a remote interview in the first place because of this challenge.

One of the best ways to address this is to speak with counsel ahead of time, air out any objections, and set ground rules. This not only allows the interview to run more smoothly. It’s likely to also be more productive because you’ve respectfully approached counsel to allay their concerns and are facilitating their ability to protect their client.

Bottom line

Interviewing witnesses remotely obviously has its own set of challenges. But we can navigate these to ensure we get the answers we need. At Barefoot Professional Investigations, we’ve completed over 900 cases, worked with small law firms and large companies. We can help you conduct remote interviews you need to make your case. Contact Barefoot PI today.

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