Stan Walters sits down with a reporter to talk about how he trains law enforcement officers on how they interview suspects and witnesses.
His first statement: “First off, have you ever lied to your mother?”
He’s joking. (I think.)
Walters, who is from Kentucky, is a nationally known expert in interrogation theory and techniques.
His biography lists him as an expert in “human deception behavior.” He’s trained to tell when people are lying. His website is thelieguy.com.
Walters was at the Lawrence Police Department last week helping train 22 police officers and private security personnel as part of a five-day class. Five Lawrence officers participated in the training.
The common image of a police interview might be a good-cop, bad-cop routine from a movie.
But during a 20-minute conversation, Walters talks more about kinder, gentler ways of communicating as a way to solicit critical information not only from suspects but also from witnesses and victims as well.
“It’s reaching out and meeting the need of the subject and the suspect, as opposed to John Wayne-ing them to death and dominating them,” said Walters, who has appeared several times on national television, including CBS’ “48 Hours.”
Walters said teaching officers more in-depth, narrative-based interview techniques, including how to study and interpret body language, is crucial for solving cases and making sure statements are admissible and would withstand challenges in court.
One challenge for officers when interviewing witnesses or victims could be either to get them to calm down if something tragic just happened or to try to get them to talk about details that might not seem germane at the time.
“They may not know they have important details that are critical to the case,” Walters said. “How do I get that type of information from the person that I can use as an investigator to develop leads?”
There are several myths that some officers tend to rely on when trying to tell if someone’s lying — like if the person doesn’t make eye contact or if he fidgets too much, he’s lying. But Walters said those aren’t necessarily good indicators and it’s best to try to let the subject talk for an extended period of time to get details.
One study found that officers interrupted an interview subject every seven seconds, which can hamper that, Walters said.
Lawrence patrol officer Hayden Fowler said he hoped to be able to take many things from Walters’ class back with him as he conducts interviews on the streets — particularly listening skills.
“We’re type-A personalities,” Fowler said. “We like to hear ourselves talk, and sometimes we’ve just got to shut up and listen.”