How closely do police interrogation techniques seen on television resemble the real thing? According to Douglas Starr, not much, reports NPR. In a New Yorker article, Starr examines the Reid technique, the style of interrogation most widely used by U.S. police forces. Created in the 1940s by former Chicago policeman John Reid, the method “is really considered the gold standard of interview and interrogation techniques,” Starr says. With Reid’s “near monopoly” on interrogation training, hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officials have been trained on the technique since the ’70s.
Starr took a training course in the Reid technique. “It has the appearance of being very scientific,” he says. A growing number of scientists and legal scholars say this approach is based on outdated science and psychology — and can sometimes produce false confessions. “There doesn’t seem to be a national conversation [about interrogator tactics] of any sort,” Starr says, “and that’s unfortunate because for every innocent person that’s put away, the person who really committed the crime is still on the streets.” Starr says, “One of the problems of the technique is that it’s based on some science that’s no longer current. When John Reid was doing this in the 1950s, people thought you could see anxiety in people’s body language. If they folded their arms, or hunched over, or looked away, they were being anxious, and also that anxiety was a hallmark of lying. But unfortunately, 40 years of extensive psychological research has shown both of those premises to be untrue.”