An effective DWI investigation is comprised of many aspects and steps. In their most basic sense, officers stop motorists suspected of driving while impaired to determine whether they are, in fact, impaired and to obtain as much legally admissible evidence as they can.
Of course, a critical component is ensuring that the officer is trustworthy and believable. Even amidst the best evidence, if jurors doubt the credibility and veracity of the officer, then the investigation may well be for naught.
One highly useful task in ensuring an effective DWI investigation and obtaining useful evidence is the art of conversational interrogation. This technique combines the art of conversation with the skill of interrogation to elicit the most information possible. By their very nature, conversations are two-way: one person says something, the other responds, the first person responds back, and so forth. Interrogations, however, are comprised of asking another person specific questions. Whereas conversations can help individuals connect with each other, interrogations generally do not. If a person knows that s/he was heard and that another person is interested in what s/he has to say, then s/he will be more inclined to provide more information.
A recent PoliceOne article discussed how law enforcement can improve DWI investigations through the art of conversational interrogation. Even though questioning any suspect is, in fact, an interrogation designed to ask specific questions to elicit incriminating responses, there are no prohibitions against making these interrogations more conversational and, perhaps, eliciting even more incriminating information against a suspect.
At the heart of conversational interrogation are three procedures: ask many open-ended questions, listen actively without interrupting, and avoid closed yes-or-no questions. First, open-ended questions prompt a stopped motorist to describe or explain something. “What have you been doing today?” is an example of an open-ended question designed to obtain more information than a simple yes-or-no question. Second, listening actively without interrupting naturally means that the suspect is providing the information. Finally, closed questions like “Have you been drinking?” naturally force the suspect to shut down and do not add much to the investigation.
Considerable field studies of police field interrogations consistently demonstrate that officers ask far more closed questions than open-ended ones. This is not useful for a number of reasons. First of all, cooperative suspects will provide more information and do it feely. Further, the more people talk, the better of a relationship you will cultivate with them. Additionally, an officer who is seen as friendly and conversational will attract more credibility in court.
Other ways law enforcement can improve DWI investigations
In addition to improving how officers interact with suspects at traffic stops, there are several other ways police agencies can prioritize anti-drunk driving efforts. First of all, it is critical to make drunk driving prevention and apprehension a high priority within the agency. Given the tragic frequency at which drunk-driving accidents occur, prevention and education should be high atop any agency’s priority list.
Next, taking advantage of new and emerging technology can go a long way toward improving efficiency and effectiveness. Technologies such as the DDS2 Mobile Test System, the DRUID mobile app, SCRAM ankle monitors, and other technologies can go a long way in helping departments reach their DWI prevention and reduction goals.
Increasing the use of DWI checkpoints can also lead to significant reductions in DWIs because they serve to stop impaired drivers before they can wreak havoc. Well-publicized and frequent sobriety checkpoints have been shown to deter a large number of potential drunk drivers and do not require considerable staffing to implement. Similarly, using saturation patrols in high-DWI areas also have the potential to deter potential drunk drivers.
Further, focusing efforts on preventing underage drinking through community education has the potential to significantly reduce underage drunk driving. This is particularly salient given that alcohol is the number one drug of choice among youths and DWI rates among teens is quite high.
Of course, improving officer training will also help anti-DWI efforts. Improving training in standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) and providing drug recognition expert (DRE) education instill within officer the knowledge and confidence to help any department achieve its goals.
Finally, teaming up with community stakeholders can also assist law enforcement agencies in preventing and educating the public about drunk driving. Agencies such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have large volunteer staffs who can help promote information and education.