Police Reports of Mock Suspect Interrogations: A Test of Accuracy and Perception

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Abstract

A 2-phased experiment assessed the accuracy and completeness of police reports on mock interrogations and their effects on people’s perceptions. In Phase 1, 16 experienced officers investigated a mock crime scene, interrogated 2 innocent suspects—1 described by the experimenter as more suspicious than the other—and filed an incident report. All 32 sessions were covertly recorded; the recordings were later used to assess the reports. In Phase 2, 96 lay participants were presented with a brief summary of the case and then either read 1 police report, read 1 verbatim interrogation transcript, or listened to an audiotape of a session. Results showed that (a) Police and suspects diverged in their perceptions of the interrogations; (b) Police committed frequent errors of omission in their reports, understating their use of confrontation, maximization, leniency, and false evidence; and (c) Phase 2 participants who read a police report, compared to those who read a verbatim transcript, perceived the process as less pressure-filled and were more likely to misjudge suspects as guilty. These findings are limited by the brevity and low-stakes nature of the task and by the fact that no significant effects were obtained for our suspicion manipulation, suggesting a need for more research. Limitations notwithstanding, this study adds to a growing empirical literature indicating the need for a requirement that all suspect interrogations be electronically recorded. To provide a more objective and accurate account of what transpired, this study also suggests the benefit of producing verbatim transcripts.

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