Next week, I am also presenting a paper at the British Society of Criminology Yorkshire and Humberside branch inaugural meeting, which is being held at the University of Leeds on 11 May (see this link). The paper is about the different rights and entitlements available to police suspects on paper and in practice in four common-law jurisdictions: England and Ireland and jurisdictions in Australia and America. This paper has led me to think about why it is that different police practices become embedded and regarded as acceptable to the police, at least.
I shall give you an example. When it comes to conducting police interviews countries like England and Wales and Australia have begun to adopt an information-gathering approach to conducting police interviews which is known by its acronym, PEACE (which stands for preparation and planning, engage and explain, account, clarifcation and evaluation). Whilst Ireland and America have not, relying instead on an accusatorial approach. Here is an excerpt from one of my field notes from America, which exemplifies what an accusatorial approach means:
Later, I was introduced to one of the other white male detectives. He said to me, “So, what do you wanna know?” I hesitated. I said “what kind of practices do you use when you interview suspects”, he replied “what when we make them confess?” I said, “well, you can tell me about that if you like”. He also said that “sometimes we remove their clothes for evidentiary purposes, if you know what I mean, and leave them sitting there in their underwear. We also try to show them who’s boss because every time they want something they have to ask me. For example, if they want a drink of water they have to ask me or if they want to go to the bathroom they have to ask me.”
I then asked whether they varied their practices between suspects and how they knew which practices to use with which suspects. The detective said to me, “well, with you, for example, I would shout at you until you cried”, then, turning to his female colleague, he said, “with her I would feed her, as she’s a tough cookie and I would tried to persuade her by giving her food”.
I found this conversation extremely intimidating, although at the same time laughable because he was conforming to the stereotypical ‘bad cop’. I’m not sure if he was trying to show-off or intimidate me. Certainly, these detectives had engaged in some leg-pulling earlier, saying “oh, we hold a phone-book to their heads and then hit them”.
Later, I relayed this conversation to one of the young police officers in the custody area and he said that this team of detectives were known as ‘bad asses’
I have whiled away many an hour in a police station as a researcher, nonetheless I found the attitudes of these 'bad ass' detectives difficult to comprehend, not least because of their short-sightedness. As it turns out there is a growing body of evidence that shows that such accusatorial interview methods are more likely to yield false confessions when compared with the information gathering approach (see the systematic review by Redlich et al. 2010).
As to the issue of why such practices had come to be regarded as acceptable in this particular jurisdiction in the US, I am struggling to find the answer. Brodeur (2010: 71) says that discretion is the hallmark of American policing, so this may contribute to a permissive environment in which such practices are allowed to flourish relatively unchecked. Moreover, historically-speaking, there has been a degree of acceptance that the police should be allowed to use some forms of 'persuasion'; the 'third degree' was soon replaced by psychological methods of persuasion and hence to this day some forms of deception are permitted in the police interview (Leo, 2008). However, I am sure there are more reasons. Answers on a postcard .....
Anyway, that's enough of my musings for now. I shall report back on how my conference paper goes down.