Improving police information gathering

Changing policy and practice for securing reliable evidence and information.

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Self-administered tools that elicit comprehensive memory accounts from witnesses, victims and informants in police investigations have improved the accuracy and quantity of information provided. Designed by Goldsmiths researchers, these tools are now in use by police and security agencies around the world.

Securing reliable evidence and intelligence is critical for the delivery of justice and protecting national security, yet poor investigative interviewing practice that is uninformed by scientific research into the human memory science can lead to incomplete or unreliable accounts.

Professor Fiona Gabbert and colleagues came up with a solution in the development of an enhanced system of information gathering, the Self-Administered Interview (SAI) and Timeline Technique.

This investigative tool could be used to elicit comprehensive initial statements from witnesses, quickly and efficiently. It takes the form of a standardised protocol of clear instructions, retrieval facilitation techniques, and open questions that guide witnesses through the process of producing their own statement without the need for a trained interviewer to be present.

Extended SAIs, developed through collaborations, have incorporated new tools to assist specific investigative needs, such as missing persons investigations, workplace accidents, road traffic collisions and sexual assault.

The Timeline Technique dispatches with the traditional notion that witnesses should provide an account in a linear narrative. Instead, it enables witnesses to report information as they remember it, structuring the information as they report it to best reflect what actually happened.

Gabbert has delivered talks and training in multiple countries, and the SAI has since been adopted as an investigative tool by police forces in Norway (since 2014), the Netherlands (since 2016) and Sweden (2020) as country-wide force policy.

The College of Policing – the professional body for the police service in England and Wales – has also endorsed use of the SAI 'in incidents involving high numbers of witnesses' in their new evidence-based guidelines for frontline police officers on obtaining initial accounts from victims and eyewitnesses.

This research was submitted for REF 2021.