Statements, either recorded or written, are essentially the work-product of your interviews with the people who are involved with an insured loss. As previously mentioned, these statements lock the interviewee into their story and make it difficult to change their description of the events that lead to the loss in the event the claim is litigated in civil or criminal court.
Statements can be either written or recorded; regardless of the method used, they all follow the same pattern and have three distinct parts:
- The introduction;
- The body; and
- The closing.
Recorded statements have long been the investigative standard, mostly because they are easy to obtain and are often more powerful than written statements if produced in court during a trial. The investigator is free to focus on the communication, both verbal and non-verbal, and it may also serve to protect the interviewer from claims of misconduct or using threats as well.
Most are recorded onto a cassette with a standard audio recorder or they are saved digitally, but videotaped statements are being used more often now that video cameras are becoming both very small and exceedingly affordable. I find however, that claimants are much more hesitant to give video statements than recorded statements. I’m sure that there are many psychological factors involved, but the method and procedure to take an audio or video recorded statement are essentially alike.
When conducting a recorded statement it is imperative that the recorder being used is of sufficient quality to accurately and clearly capture both sides of the interview. Recorded interviews are almost always transcribed into a written record, and the transcriptionist must be able to completely understand everything on the tape. You must be prepared prior to arriving at the interview with extra batteries and cassettes. I carry around an extra box in my car that is essentially a redundant recording system, replete with a backup recorder, tapes and batteries, statement forms, records releases, etc. I never open that box unless it is an emergency.
Remember that the recorder will not discriminate, and all parts of the conversation will be captured to tape. I have listened to tapes of junior investigators making inappropriate comments, using profanity and losing their tempers. If you are not adept at conducting a recorded interview, have communication difficulties like stuttering or stammering or cannot avoid colloquial speech, I highly suggest obtaining a written statement. Practice does make perfect though and you will have to start somewhere. The best interviewers I know today strive for excellence and as part of getting better they always review their recorded interviews and self-critique their performance. I personally used to have a problem with the “ummm’s” and “OK’s.” By making it a habit to critique each interview, I eventually erased them from my vocabulary. Consequently, the transcripts of my interviews are more articulate and appear more polished.
Two other points that I would like to make: Since I use standard size cassettes that are 60 minutes long (30 minutes each side) I program my watch to alarm every 28 minutes during the interview. This way I am reminded to switch sides or change tapes as needed. Also, my clients prefer that I not use the digital voice recorders that are gaining popularity. They are concerned that the original product of the interview cannot be saved even though transferring the recording to a compact disc produces an exact replica (1’s and 0’s are not mixed up and nothing is added or subtracted from recording). Additionally, I have had one client tell me that her company has concerns about the shelf life of DVDs and CDs that are being produced on personal computers (failures due to age are now being well documented as these types of media are becoming older).
The introduction part of a recorded statement must always begin with the identification of the parties that are going to be recorded, the date and location of the interview, the subject matter being discussed and acknowledgment/permission from the interviewee to continue to record the statement. In instances where you are conducting the interview via telephone, exchange the address with the phone number at which you called the interviewee.
Here is an example of my typical opening:
“This is Scott Harrell with CompassPoint Investigations. Today’s date is June 14, 2004, it is 11:30 a.m. and we are at the home of Ms. Jane Doe located at 123 South Main Street, Anytown, Anystate. I am speaking to Mr. John Smith regarding AllState claim number 111222333 documenting Mr. Smith’s description of a traffic accident that occurred on May 20, 2004. Mr. Smith, are you aware that I am currently taping this interview? (Wait for an answer.) Do I have your permission to continue to record this conversation?”
I always include a “disclaimer of incentive” and “guarantee of sobriety as well:”
“Mr. Smith, have I offered you anything in return for recording our conversation today? (Wait for an answer.) Are you currently on any type of drugs, medication or alcohol that will prevent you from understanding my questions and answering them fully?”
I then continue with the questions outlined in the Statement Guides included within the Appendix this course.
In the event you must stop the tape for whatever reason, do not speak with the interviewee while the recorder is off. Instead, end each side of the tape and begin the new side with something to the effect of:
“Mr. Smith, I have to stop this recording now to change tapes. The time is now 11:58 a.m. and I am turning the recorder off.”
“This is the first (or second, third, etc.) continuation of a conversation between Scott Harrell and John Smith regarding AllState claim number 111222333. The time is 11:59 a.m. Mr. Smith, while I was changing tapes did we discuss this case?”
Upon concluding the recorded interview, you must state that the interview is over, give the interviewee an opportunity to add or change anything that was said, confirm permission to record the conversation, confirm your disclaimer of incentive and close the recorded statement with the date and time:
“Mr. Smith, I have no further questions at this time. Is there anything that we have left out or that you would like to add to our conversation? (Wait for an answer.) Were you aware that I was recording this conversation and did I have your permission to record it? (Wait for an answer.) Did I offer you anything in return for recording this conversation today? (Wait for an answer.) Thank you very much for your time. It is 12:30 p.m. on June 14, 2004 and I will terminate this recording now.”
Taking a written statement is virtually the same process as taking a recorded statement; each requires the opening, body and a professional close. There are two types of written statements- the “Narrative Statement” and the “Question and Answer Statement (Q&A).” Some of the rules involving statements include:
- Never take a written statement from someone who claims that they cannot read or write fluently in English.
- The statement must be legible.
- Set aside plenty of time to take written statements.
- Use only one side of each page.
- Always use a blue or black pen, never use a pencil, and always bring a spare.
- Use only one line to strike through mistakes and empty spaces.
- Initial your mistakes and have the interviewee initial his or her mistakes.
- Make sure that each page of the statement is consecutively numbered and includes the total number of pages in the statement.
- On the last page of the statement have the interviewee draw a line diagonally through the blank space at the bottom and underneath their closing statements and signature. Have them write “Nothing further this page.” and include the date and their initials.
The Q&A is most like a recorded statement in that both the investigator and the subject of the interview are actively involved in the statement taking process. The investigator simply writes a question and the interviewee writes an answer. I prefer this type of written statement to a Narrative because it allows me to control the direction of the statement, and it is easier to use with subjects that are of average or lower intelligence or have difficulty expressing him/herself in writing. Additionally, witnesses can be either self-conscious of their writing ability or look at the Narrative as a burden not being shared by the both of us – he or she gets to do all of the writing while I sit back and watch.
I use the following preprinted forms for taking Q&A statements:
The first couple of questions I ask are similar to the recorded statement (note that while using these forms, I write a “Q” before each of my questions and an “A” prior to the subjects response:
Q: Where is this interview currently being conducted?”
A: Let them write the location.
Q: Have any promises or threats been made to you in return for giving me this statement?”
“Q- Are you currently under the influence of any drugs, medication or alcohol that will prevent you from understanding and answering my questions?”
Then I continue on with my questions following the Statement Guide included in this course. I will always write the “A-” before giving the paper back to the interviewee; they will almost always forget to write it themselves.
When concluding the Q&A statement I finish with the following questions:
“Q- Do you have anything that you wish to add or remove from this statement?”
“Q- Have any promises or threats been made to you in return for giving me this statement?”
“Q- Are your answers true and correct to the best of your knowledge?”
“Q- Have you read over this statement in its entirety and have you understood every question asked?”
The “Narrative Statement” is the most common type of written statement obtained and should follow the interview process as soon as possible while their story and any newly elicited facts are still fresh is the subject’s mind. In this type of statement, the interviewee is simply asked to write what happened or what they know about the cause of the investigation. This is most often accomplished in the interviewee’s own handwriting with the direction and guidance of the interviewer. There are instances where an investigator may write the statement for the interviewee and then have him/her attest to the statement, but it is rare.
As in the previous statements, the narrative will begin with an opening, introducing the person writing the statement, the date and time the statement is being made, etc. I typically dictate this to them to facilitate the process:
“I, John Smith, freely make the following statement to Scott Harrell of CompassPoint Investigations concerning a traffic accident in which I was involved on May 20, 2011. I currently live at 123 Main Street, Anytown, Anystate. I was born on January 1, 1960 and my social security number is 123-45-6789. I am employed as a mechanic at ABC Manufacturing in Anytown, Anystate and have been there for 22 years. I make the following statement of my own free will, without threat or promise of any kind, and I am not currently under the influence of any substance that would impair my ability to do so accurately. Today is June 14, 2011 and it is 11:30 a.m.”
Following the opening paragraph, I will gently guide them into writing the rest of their statement and like them to begin with something such as:
“On May 20, 2011…”
The closing of the narrative statement also follows a pattern that I dictate to them:
“I have read my statement over thoroughly and have nothing further to add at this time. This statement is 4 pages long and each page has been numbered and initialed by me in the top right-hand corner of each page. Everything that I have written is true and correct to the best of my recollection and I have not been offered anything in return for giving this statement today. This concludes my statement. The time is presently 1:30 p.m.”
One last thought regarding taking statements, if you use diagrams, sketches, photos, etc. while taking a written or recorded statement, it is best to make a copy specifically for that interview. Label the exhibit with the interviewee’s last name and a consecutive number or letter, such as “Smith-1,” and have the subject sign and date the back of each. Introduce each of them in turn and refer to these exhibits by the name/number identification while taking the statement.
For example, in a recorded statement or a written Q&A, I might ask, “Mr. Smith, have I shown you a photo that I have labeled Smith-1 and have you signed and dated the back of that picture? (Wait for an answer.) Please describe the photo labeled Smith-1.” In a narrative statement, I would ask the subject to write something similar to “Using the photograph labeled Smith-1 provided to me by Scott Harrell and signed by me on the back, I recognize that to be the intersection where the automobile accident occurred on May 20, 20011.”
Certainly an interview follows a specific process; from reviewing the case file, meeting and establishing rapport with the interviewee, enhancing his/her recall of the event being investigated, to concluding with a recorded or written statement. But just as following a plan is important to interviewing, so is the ability to interview well! Interviewing also involves developing the competence to ask effective interview questions, listen skillfully and interpret what isn’t being said at the same time.