Coaxing useful information from human sources is an inexact science, requiring diplomacy, patience, and finesse.
A few tips on the art of asking, from a veteran bail enforcer:
When gathering data to track down a bail absconder, the investigator has a variety of tools at his disposal: Government and private databases, the interview form on the bail contract, social networking sites, and other sources of information can be useful in locating someone.
Sometimes, however, investigators must turn to the time-proven art of interviewing human sources. Whether it’s the skip’s family, neighbors, co-workers, or just casual acquaintances, many (if not most) of these people will possess some knowledge of the skip that the BEA will find useful. The trick is to extract that information and evaluate its usefulness later.
The first thing to remember when gathering information is that “more is always better.” If you find someone who’s willing to talk, let him talk. Too often, investigators undermine the interview in one of two ways: 1. by improperly phrasing a question, or 2. by rushing through the question list instead of listening to the interviewee’s answers.
The Art of Asking
Instead of “yes or no” questions, ask open-ended questions that prompt the interviewee to answer more fully. For example, instead of “Have you seen John lately?” you might ask: “How long has it been since you’ve seen John?” Although the questions may seem similar, one requires a one-word answer, while the other opens the door to a variety of answers and encourages an interviewee to speak in complete sentences and perhaps establish a dialogue. Once you get a person talking, let him talk. Don’t get impatient, and don’t interrupt.
Another important goal of the interview is to try and establish the veracity of the interviewee. Since most of us don’t carry lie detectors around with us and we aren’t psychic, an effective tool that I use is to ask questions that may seem harmless or irrelevant (and to which I already know the answers). If the person begins the interview lying to you, it’s likely that he won’t be truthful when the important questions start.
Asking him about his relationship with the absconder, how long they’ve known each other, or whether the two are close friends can break the ice in the interview and will give you a good idea about the interviewee’s willingness to talk with you. Remember, most people will incorporate an element of truth in almost every lie, because it will make the lie more believable. The job of the interviewer is to separate the lie from the truth.
Beyond Friends and Family
While you’ll hopefully find some references to interview on the bond application, it’s easy to overlook many other excellent sources of information. Family members and friends may know your subject better, but other connections—such as co-workers and neighbors—may know nearly as much and be more willing to talk.
Telephone interviews may get the job done, but I’ve found that in-person interviews are usually more effective. People tend to open up more in person, in my experience. And you sometimes learn important information from an interviewee’s surroundings.
Once you get a person talking, let him talk. Don’t get impatient, and don’t interrupt.
When going to a business to talk with co-workers, It’s generally best to play it straight: Explain to the person in charge that you’re trying to find someone who has missed a court date. Telling the boss that there’s an outstanding warrant will usually get you the information that you’ll need.
Most companies will be willing to talk to you, and some may even offer you copies of their records. Never turn down any bit of information, whether or not you think it’s useful. People like to feel that they are helping, and you can always evaluate the relevancy of what you learned after the fact. Anything that contains personal data—such as dates of birth, social security numbers, phone numbers, references, or even past employment histories—can be quite valuable.
The skip’s former neighbors can also be a trove of information. A good interviewer should question as many of them as possible. Criminals don’t usually make good neighbors, and people love to talk about the problem guy on their street. Neighbors can usually tell you who in the neighborhood knew the skip best, who liked him the least, who lived with him, when he moved out, and maybe even where he moved. Again, it’s important to remember that once people start talking, you should keep quiet and hear them out.
Now Go Find Your Guy
After you’ve gathered as much information as possible, it’s important to sit down, go over your notes, try to find the consistencies in your interviews, and use that information to advance your investigation. Hopefully, after you’ve talked to all the people suggested, you’ll have either an exact location for your skip or (at the very least) a few strong leads to follow. Either way, you’ll have closed in several steps nearer to locating your skip.