The Art of Interrogation

How do you get your villain to confess? How do you know if a witness is telling the truth? Paul Bishop, who is a nationally recognized behaviorist interrogation expert and veteran LAPD detective, conducted this session at the Writers’ Police Academy. (He’s also a writer. Check out his books.) Paul Bishop’s Books

While Bishop was a detective with the LAPD they had a 95% successful record in solving crimes. He said the reason he and his team had so much success is they prepared for an interrogation. They gathered information and planned a strategy.

He began our session by explaining the difference between interview and interrogation. When he interviewed a suspect, he rarely brought the suspect to the police station. He’d meet with the suspect somewhere where the suspect wouldn’t be on guard, some place like Starbucks. While there, he wouldn’t ask questions about the crime, but as they talked, he would gain knowledge he could use later. (Habits. Hobbies.”)

On the other hand, if he wanted the suspect uncomfortable, he’d go to the suspect’s place of work, or home. Since he was usually investigating sex crimes, he knew the suspect wouldn’t want others to know why he was there, so he’d barge in.and use a loud voice. (Loud enough for co-workers to hear. Neighbors to hear. Wife to hear.) He wanted to embarrass the suspect, create a situation where the suspect wanted  him to go away. He wanted to increase the suspect’s level of anxiety. Holding the suspect’s hand also worked to increase anxiety.

When a suspect was brought to the police station, Bishop would keep reassuring the suspect that he wasn’t in custody. There wouldn’t be anyone else in the interview room. No police presence visible. Bishop wouldn’t be dressed like a cop. In fact, this was part of his preparation. He would choose his outfit to help him get the responses and reaction he wanted. (Interviewing a business man, Bishop would wear a business suit. Interviewing an actor, Bishop’s outfit would be casual.)

One sign he looked for was the suspect keeping his or her head down in an attempt to relieve anxiety. Innocent people didn’t usually have that anxiety. Innocent people might be upset or curious (as to why they were there), but not highly anxious.

With some suspects he used an emotional approach, with others he kept it factual. Again, deciding which approach to use was from his preparation prior to bringing the suspect in. Either way, he made sure he had the facts and figures, and he said both approaches (emotion or factual) took the same amount of time for him to break a suspect.

After the interview session, he’d take a break. He’d leave the room. Leave the suspect alone in the room. This would also make the suspect anxious. (What’s he doing? What’s he know?) When he finally returned, the interrogation would begin.

Bishop said it’s important to know what you expect. What you want. You need to know what you have in evidence. He said the lower body is where the suspect will reveal his or her anxiety. He’ll wipe his hand over his butt. She might keep her legs moving. Tapping.

Bishop would try to create a sense of intimacy. He would touch the suspect (Touch, he said, is a powerful tool.), lean toward him or her. With a woman, he would sit close. (Not with men. Men don’t want their personal space invaded.)

Bishop said an interrogator needs to become the person the suspect needs in order for the suspect to give what’s wanted. (The interrogator needs to be the person who understands.)

How do you know if the suspect is telling the truth?

  • Bishop said he’d ask questions, and watch the suspect’s face and how she reacted.
  • He would already know the answers to some of the questions, so he knew if the suspect was lying or telling the truth.
  • He would listen to how they worded their answers. (Think of how President Clinton worded his answer to “That woman.”) Or the suspect might say, “Could be anybody,” trying to widen the suspect pool.

Bishop said he rarely raised his voice. By keeping his voice quiet, he was able to increase that sense of intimacy. He also listened to how the suspect answered. The guilty ones would drop their voice over time. “Truth has a sound,” Bishop said, “but you have to accept that the suspect may be innocent.”

I really enjoyed this session and think I’m going to have to read some of his novels.

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15 Responses to The Art of Interrogation

  1. Great article, Maris! Thanks for sharing this information. I’m curious about this statement: “Holding the suspect’s hand also worked to increase anxiety.” Does the speaker mean physically holding the suspect’s hand? That caught me by surprise because I wouldn’t someone I didn’t know touching me. (Or most people I do know.) If the speaker does mean he literally holds the suspect’s hand, how does he can gain the suspect’s trust? Maybe the speaker didn’t elaborate on that, which is fine. I was just curious. Thanks for sharing!

    Laura Haley McNeil

    • Maris Soule says:

      Hi Laura. Yes, Bishop meant literally holding the person’s hand. I believe, if I’m remembering this correctly, he did this not when he wanted to be buddy-buddy with the suspect but when he wanted to increase the suspect’s anxiety. (It was, I believe, a subtle message that the suspect couldn’t get away, even though the suspect hadn’t yet been charged.) In an interview situation, Bishop didn’t hold the suspect’s hand but might touch the suspect’s hand. Maybe a light touch along with, “I understand.” I think that would have depended on the suspect. Did he feel the suspect wanted to confess, that he or she felt guilty? Then that touch might help create a bond. At least that’s how I interpreted Bishop’s words.

  2. Jacqueline Seewald says:


    This blog is full of valuable info. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  3. Ashley says:

    This just baffles me:

    “Bishop would try to create a sense of intimacy. He would touch the suspect (Touch, he said, is a powerful tool.), lean toward him or her. With a woman, he would sit close. (Not with men. Men don’t want their personal space invaded.)”

    I would tell the guy to back off and get his hands off me. What, MEN don’t want their space invaded, but it’s perfectly okay for a perfect stranger to do it to a woman in a stressful situation? I don’t THINK so.

    I’ve taken a class from DCIS (Defense Criminal Investigative Service) on interviewing and interrogation, and was lucky enough to be able to watch an interrogation in person–which in no way makes me an expert on the subject! But I would really have liked to ask Bishop more questions about how he uses space. Thank you so much for posting this. It sounds like a very interesting session.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Ashley, if you have the time, it would probably be beneficial to read Bishop’s non-fiction book Nothing but the Truth. That might give a better sense of how he interrogates. He did say he adjusted his technique to each suspect, so maybe with you, he would have kept his hands to himself and given you lots of space.

  4. Good information! Thanks for posting.

  5. Simone Cooper says:

    Thank you for the write-up, Maris. This is so valuable. I hope to get back to Writers Police Academy someday!

  6. That’s really interesting, even though I don’t write crime novels.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jane Ann, I may never use this information, but I find it interesting, and when watching mystery movies (which I enjoy), I often see the police using techniques I’ve heard about at these sessions.

  7. Diana Stout says:

    Once again, another great informative blog!!! I’m with you–I’m now curious about Bishop’s books, too. Thanks for sharing.