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Accommodating trauma in police interviews: an exploration of rapport in investigative interviews of traumatized victims

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

In the investigation of a criminal offense, the investigative interview is one of the
most important methods used by the police. In interviews, the police investigator may encounter suspects, witnesses or victims who experience a wide range of emotional states: states that may get in the way of rapport and the interviewee providing an optimal account. How can a police interviewer approach an interviewee in order to obtain rapport and attend to his or her psychological needs? The aim of this thesis was to explore the psychological processes underpinning rapport in police interviews of traumatized victims. In three qualitative studies, we examined the processes of developing and maintaining rapport with adult traumatized individuals with an emphasis on how police investigators accommodate the emotional state of interviewees.

The studies reported in Papers 1 and 2 were based on interviews of police
investigators responsible for interviewing victims after the Utøya massacre on 22 July 2011 in Norway. We employed an explorative-reflexive approach to these research interviews and used a thematic analysis based on a hermeneutic phenomenological epistemology to examine the data. Paper 1 explored factors considered important and useful for facilitating safety, and for developing and maintaining rapport with traumatized interviewees. The findings show the importance of the investigator's preparatory efforts through planning and finding an approach, in addition to endeavoring to achieve openness for the interviewee and reflecting on potential emotional reactions that could emerge. The findings highlight the importance of different relational and communicative approaches to enhance rapport, such as a strategic use of first impressions and casual conversation, previewing the interview process, showing understanding, and adapting to the expressions of the interviewee.

One of the main findings presented in Paper 1 was the investigator's descriptions of the significance of managing the interviewee's negative emotions to facilitate safety and thus, rapport. This was the basis for Paper 2, which examined useful approaches to regulating and coping with distress in order to maintain rapport and promote interviewee's psychological well-being. The findings showed the importance of the investigator being attentive to the interviewee's nonverbal communication and his or her capacity to cope with distress before showing acceptance and the ability to handle negative feelings experienced in the interview. To regulate distress, the investigator should respond to the interviewee's emotional needs, help them to feel safe and
promote a positive atmosphere. The findings of Studies 1 and 2 describe different aspects of how police interviewers approach, accommodate, and respond to the state of the interviewee to build rapport and further psychological well-being.

To achieve a further understanding of the emotional processes of police interviews, Paper 3 theoretically examined the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) in investigative interviewing and how EI can be implemented in the training of police interviewers. EI in the context of investigative interviewing was defined, with an emphasis on empathy and emotion regulation. We presented four key considerations for training police interviewers in handling emotions (self-awareness, attention training, communication skills, and emotion regulation) before discussing the usefulness of EI with regard to investigative interviewing.

In summary, the findings demonstrate the importance of police interviewers engaging in relational and emotional processes when interviewing traumatized interviewees. This thesis contributes to the understanding of the underlying psychological processes that facilitate rapport and promote the well-being of traumatized interviewees in police interviews.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bergen
Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateSep 2017

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