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Investigation Interviews: to Record or Not to Record?

Could the fear of “screwing up” be jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation interview process?

Posted by Dawn Lomer on August 8th, 2012

We’ve written about this topic before on this blog, usually arguing strongly for it. And many of the investigators we’ve interviewed about recording investigation interviews find it to be a valuable and necessary step in the process, providing solid back-up and dispelling any doubt about who said what and how it was said.

But there are always dissenters on this topic and they, too, have valid reasons for their opinions. In the August edition of his newsletter, Hamlet’s Mind, Don Rabon makes a compelling case for recording investigation interviews while acknowledging the validity of the other side of the argument. With his permission, we’ve reproduced his article here.

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The Case for Recording Interviews

Between the June issue and the publication of this issue [of Hamlet’s Mind], I had an enjoyable, multi-person conference call with a group of attorneys and investigators from a large corporation. The focus of the electronic meeting was to discuss recording the interview, in particular, with regard to subsequent personnel actions. Those of you having been with me for any length of time know my positioning on two critical interviewing related topics: Every organization – private or public – for whom interviewing is a critical component should have a written interviewing policy and interviews, involving the potential for significant downstream consequences, should be recorded.

First of all, I appreciated the fact they were exploring the concept – I think at the behest of personnel responsible for conducting the interviews – and were willing to take time out of, what I know is a busy and challenging schedule, to spend a little time discussing the topic with me. During the conversation they shared with me that they had canvased attorneys in similar organizations across the fruited plain and there was an overwhelming opinion that the interviews SHOULD NOT be recorded. To me, that is like saying – and I say this as a Baptist – that a group of Baptist preachers asked some other Baptist preachers what they thought of full immersion baptism and they were all for it! Well, what do you know?

I responded to them with all of the sincerity I have in my precious, little heart that maybe it would be a good idea to canvas others – for example, those who conduct the interviews, to gain their perspective. Why? Because I believe (and I told them so) the default setting in an attorney’s mind is, “No”.

Don’t get me wrong. These attorneys’ mindsets and my own are the same – err on the side of caution. Their collective concern is that the other side could use the recording to “pick out” or “focus on” some component of the recorded interview to their advantage. That’s a valid thought.

Implications of Not Recording

My concern is that when there is nothing, it opens the door widely to implication: If the interview was appropriate, why can’t we hear it? Why must we have only one side of the articulation of the interview process that occurred as well as the results of the interview? They countered with, “There is a written record or summary of the results with the interviewee’s signature”. Once more: Whose written record or summary is it? Exactly how was it obtained?

The same people who would endeavor to attack some small element of the recorded interview are the same who will fly the implication flag – If they were not trying to hide something, they would want for us to be able to hear or see it, wouldn’t they? To me, if the interview is appropriate, it will stand for itself. Countering implication, most especially in this age of societal skepticism, is going to be a continuing and ever more difficult challenge. I hope I’m wrong.

Fear of the Screw-Up

In the early 1990’s, I conducted a training session for the interview instructors of a federal agency. At the end of the session they asked if I had any videos of interviews they could use as training aids. Well, some people collect stamps but I collect interviews, statements and transcripts – that’s just me. “Sure”, I answered. “But don’t you think you would be better served having your personnel evaluate your own interviews rather than those of other organizations with different topics on the table?” “We don’t record our interviews”. “Wow, I didn’t know that, how come?” After a significant, latency response, they answered, “We’re afraid they’ll screw up”.

You know, we readily address and present other forms of supporting evidence: audit summaries, transactional- electronic data flow, documents, trance analysis and ballistics to name a few. I don’t think we would ever have the position of; we don’t want to perform the analysis because we are afraid they will screw up or we don’t want to perform the audit (investigation) because we are afraid they’ll screw up. Wonder why the hesitancy specific to the interview itself?

Keep in mind; I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am just looking around, trying to pay attention to what’s going on and endeavoring to keep you all aware of the interviewing related hazards I think are coming or are already here. But at the end of the day, record or don’t record and we’re still friends.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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