Developing a more effective framework for the investigative interviewing of suspected sex offenders

  • Gavin E. Oxburgh

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Although some research has suggested that the use of a more humane, or empathic, interviewing style with suspected sex offenders is likely to bring about more admissions (Holmberg & Christianson, 2002; Kebbell, Hurran & Mazzerole, 2006; see also Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2004 for a review), much of this research has been conducted with offenders long after they had been interviewed by the police. Thus, the main aims of this thesis were to examine whether the use of empathy by interviewers had any measurable benefit during an interview as well as identifying interviewers’ beliefs and understanding about what empathy is. Chapter one outlines the impact of empirical research on investigative interviewing in recent decades, including the meaning and definitions of different question typologies and the way in which research could move forward. The chapter also details the advances in police training in England and Wales, including the Professionalising the Investigation Programme (PIP), designed to enhance and professionalise police investigations per se. The current literature concerning empathy and its efficacy in relation to investigative interviewing is reviewed in Chapter two. The chapter concludes with a summary outlining the lack of training for police officers in the area of empathy and proposes a more refined model for measuring empathy. Chapter three outlines the findings from an empirical study which focuses on police officers’ perceptions and the challenges associated with interviewing suspects of different types of crime. Interviews with suspects of crimes against children were shown to be the most difficult for police officers to conduct. Officers reported that they would show the least amount of empathy towards interviewees suspected of child rape. Furthermore, participants’ qualitative responses revealed that many officers did not believe empathy should be used at all in interviews with suspects, regardless of the crime. Chapter four examines the use of empathy and the impact of question type on the amount of Investigation Relevant Information (IRI) obtained by examining transcripts of actual police interviews with suspects of child rape. The use of appropriate questions led to significantly higher amounts of information elicited that may be relevant to the investigation, while empathy (calculated by counting the number of examples of spontaneous empathy, empathic opportunities that were continued) did not have any impact on the amount of IRI elicited. The study outlined in Chapter five extended this methodology and analysed the effects of empathy and question type on the amount of IRI obtained from interviews with suspects of three different high stakes crimes: adult murder; filicide; and child rape. As in the previous analysis (Chapter four), no direct effects of empathy on the amount of IRI elicited were found. However, in interviews classified as empathic, interviewers asked significantly more appropriate questions than they did in interviews classified as non-empathic, and significantly more items of IRI were elicited from appropriate questions. The study outlined in Chapter six investigates police officers’ beliefs about what determines the ‘quality’ of investigative interviews. The questionnaire consisted of four excerpts from real life interviews, which varied on two dimensions – the balance of appropriate to inappropriate question, and whether they contained examples of empathy. Analysis revealed that officers were mostly able to detect which interviews contained appropriate questions, and that they used the appropriateness of questions as a determinant of overall ‘quality’ in interviews. However, one reason why respondents may have used appropriate questions as a proxy for quality is that, as revealed by their qualitative responses, empathy was difficult to identify. The final Chapter provides an overview of the findings, outlines the limitations and challenges associated with this kind of research, suggests recommendations for future research and discusses the implications for police practice.
Date of AwardOct 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJames Ost (Supervisor), Julie Cherryman (Supervisor) & Paul Morris (Supervisor)

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