Suspects aren’t the only people police formally interview as part of their criminal investigations.
Victims who have been through traumatic experiences — sexual assault, in particular — also undergo lengthy and detailed interviews with investigating law enforcement officers.
The University of Kansas police station has renovated one of its two interview rooms to be more comfortable for those victims.
The “Trauma Informed Interview Room” at the KU Office of Public Safety, 1501 Crestline Drive, was completed last month and hosted a public showing last week.
“The ability to talk to someone in a good, warm space is always better,” KU Police Chief Chris Keary said of interviewing sexual assault victims, as well as other victims and certain witnesses in criminal cases reported to KU police. “Interviewing of suspects is different than interviewing of the victims and witnesses.”
The KU Student Senate Student Safety Advisory Board funded the project, according to Jen Brockman, director of KU’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center, which initially suggested and coordinated its completion.
Brockman said Student Senate allocated $6,000 to renovate the police interview room and, coming next, an interview room at KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which conducts investigations into campus sexual violence reports separately from police.
First, picture the old interview room, which is what the remaining KU suspect interview room still looks like.
It’s about 8-by-8 feet, with cold blue walls, a little gray table, two stark black chairs, bright fluorescent lights overhead — and that’s pretty much it.
The renovated room right next to it is warm, cozy and soothing.
There are two cushy swivel-gliders, wide enough to accommodate a police officer’s duty belt as well as an interviewee who wants to curl up in the chair instead of sitting feet on the floor, Brockman points out. She said being able to rock is a legitimate coping mechanism for someone enduring an emotionally difficult interview.
On the back of each chair is a quilted, weighted blanket to hold or cover up with. One blanket weighs 12 pounds, the other 10.
“It’s basically like a hug,” Brockman said.
The walls are a deeper blue, with noise-absorbing panels and a sound machine to produce background noise. Light comes from wall-mounted lamps.
A corner cabinet holds a basket of stress balls and fidget toys on top, plus a box of Kleenex. Inside there are snacks and bottles of water. All those elements are designed to reduce stress and anxiety for victims of crime who choose to report it to the police, Brockman said.
Both KU police interview rooms still have in-ceiling video cameras for recording interviews when needed.
Jane Tuttle, KU’s associate vice provost for student affairs, called the room “cutting-edge.”
“This is unique, that a university police force would have a trauma informed interview room,” Tuttle said. “Some of my professional colleagues from around the country were amazed and wanting to know how we did it.”
Although the room itself might be a small project, Tuttle said to the person sitting in there it’s a very significant space.
“I think it sends a message that we’re aware, and we’re doing everything we can to assist survivors, victims of any kind of crime,” Tuttle said.