Police officers must be neutral, fair and equitable when interviewing people implicated in crimes in order to best ensure a successful investigation. This is the theory behind a science-based interview methodology called FETI (Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview), which also emphasizes making sure not to re-traumatize victims of crime when gathering information.
Members of the CU Boulder Police Department (CUPD) received FETI training this spring, learning how to maximize information gathering from victims, witnesses and suspects after a crime has occurred. The technique was put into practice immediately, adding to CUPD’s list of options to help address mental health issues and connect the campus community to resources.
“We are thrilled to be pioneers in this area, which is so important to not only ensuring successful interviews, but also to treating victims of crime with the utmost care and respect,” said Doreen, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Public Safety and Chief of Police. Jokerst. “Having this type of focus on mental health is also in line with our other community support programs, such as providing a victim advocate and our embedded clinician.
The method is grounded in the neurobiology of trauma and attempts to create an environment where those affected by crime feel comfortable enough to share their experiences. Officers are trained to ask questions in a non-leading way, allowing victims of crime to respond to clues and share information in a narrative way.
“As our officers investigate crimes, it’s important to understand how traumatic incidents are coded in the brain,” said CUPD Commander Eric Edford, who is also an investigator for the department. “FETI gives officers a tool to help extract facts when those involved in these crimes may not be able to easily recall information.”
Trainers describe the method as “gather the dots, not connect the dots”, to emphasize the importance of separating the interview from the other stages of the investigation. This helps ensure fairness and neutrality, while leaving less information on the table.
At regional FETI teaching sessions hosted by the CUPD, members of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, and other police departments joined the University Police for training, learning first the theory, then practicing the interview techniques.
FETI trainer Lori Heitman explained that gathering information without re-traumatizing victims is crucial. “We focus on what victims of crime can’t forget, not what they can’t remember. By focusing on sensory information, we can access implicit details that they didn’t even realize they understood,” she said.
Heitman likens the human brain to a crime scene, to be handled with the utmost care during an interview. “We don’t want to alter the information or use leading or coercive questions, as this may be part of the factual model and may not be accurate,” she said. “We must be determined not to put anything in anyone’s memory.”
Instructor Carrie Hull said she was impressed with the CUPD’s awareness of trauma-informed movement and its willingness to help share scientific methodology, which is continually evolving as new information about how the brain treats trauma become available. The officers included in the training will use their new knowledge, maximizing the amount of information gathered during an interview, in order to conduct the most thorough investigation possible.
“We reduce anxiety so that victims of crime can share the experience they’ve had,” said Heitman, who pioneered the use of FETI techniques. “If you don’t pass the interview, other things don’t go as well,” she said. “Better interviews can lead to better conviction rates, which can benefit everyone in the community.– both on and off campus.