Statement analysis field examination technique: a useful investigative tool. (Perspective).
From these early beginnings, statement analysis, the word-by-word examination of a statement, has evolved into a valuable investigative tool. (2) When used in conjunction with other investigative techniques, it can assist greatly in the case-solving process.
Statement analysis provides insight into a statement that identifies areas for further investigation, thereby lending itself to helping law enforcement officers plan future subject interviews and ongoing investigations. It is similar to a crime scene search in that it represents a careful, systematic review of each word written or uttered by a person. Before trained reviewers can conduct an analysis, however, they must know the process followed that generated the statement.
The FBI has adapted traditional statement analysis methods to focus on whether statements are accurate and complete. This study represents an initial step in discovering the usefulness of the FBI's statement analysis approach and provides investigators with the statement analysis field examination technique (SAFE-T), a quick method of analyzing a statement to determine accuracy and completeness, using only two elements of statement analysis--lack of conviction (personal) and extraneous information. (3)
The authors wanted to find out whether two elements of statement analysis can identify accurate and complete statements. Furthermore, if deception occurred, they wanted to discover if it occurred through omission (i.e., knowingly including other information that does not answer the question asked while leaving out and, thereby, avoiding pertinent elements of the event) or commission (i.e., knowingly misstating the facts of the event).
Because the sample for this study was small, readers should not generalize the results until more comprehensive research occurs. This study stands as a practitioner's guide that attempts to shed light on two elements of statement analysis and the usefulness of SAFE-T as a field examination technique. However, readers should realize that using only these two elements of statement analysis limits the comprehensiveness of their analysis.
The authors selected the two elements--lack of conviction and extraneous information--because they often appear as strong indicators of the accuracy and completeness of a statement and are relatively easy to identify in a written statement. Investigators can use them to substantiate the Undeutsch Hypothesis that statements based on reality appear different from those based on imagination.
Lack of Conviction
Lack of conviction (personal) is "a modifying or equivocating term. Such terms allow the speaker to 'evade the risk of commitment.' The speaker is undermining his/her own assertion, which may indicate some difficulty with committing to what is being said." (4)
Examples of words and phrases that indicate a lack of conviction on the part of the writer are "I think," "I believe," "kind of," "sort of," "to the best of my recollection," "maybe," "possibly," or "as far as I know." Any word or phrase that indicates an attempt by the writer to avoid personal accountability, especially when it qualifies or limits the central issue of the statement, represents an example of lack of conviction.
Extraneous information in a statement also can provide clues to deception. A truthful person, with nothing to hide, when asked "what happened?" will recount the events chronologically and concisely. Any information that does not answer this question is extraneous. This explains why the statement examiner must know the question used by the investigator to initiate the statement. Based upon the fight-or-flight physiological response, "It is much less emotionally demanding and anxiety provoking to take the route of least resistance: evasion and indirect deception, rather than direct denial, lies, and direct deceptions." (5) It is the authors' supposition then that accurate and complete statements typically contain only incidental amounts of lack of conviction or extraneous information, if at all. When individuals answer investigators' questions accurately and completely, their statements are clear and straightforward, with little or no qualifying words, and the content of the statements relates directly to the q uestions asked by the interviewers. However, when writers cannot or will not explain what happened, their statements become riddled with lack of conviction or extraneous information. They supply information that is "safe" and will not implicate them in any crime or questionable activity.
The authors used 24 random statements written by Seattle, Washington, Police Department officers describing what happened to them during on-the-job traffic collisions. Because these officers had to write their statements before the end of their shifts, they experienced not only the stress of the accident but also the added concern of time constraints, making the preparation of these statements more difficult. Police officers are trained and experienced in acquiring and interpreting oral and written statements. This skill may have affected the outcome of this study.
Lieutenant Tooke provided the statements, changing the names of the officers to the generic Smith and Jones. All statements came from closed investigations that the department investigated, prior to the conception of the study, using proper police traffic collision investigation procedures and techniques. Using standard motor vehicle investigation, analysis, and reconstruction protocols, Lieutenant Tooke independently validated the accuracy of the investigations. The reliability of the investigation and Lieutenant Tooke's analysis, based on the sound scientific principles of accident reconstruction, established the known truth for the purposes of the study.
Special Agent Klopf analyzed these statements to determine their accuracy and completeness using only lack of conviction and extraneous information components of statement analysis. At no time prior to Special Agent Klopf's statement analysis did Lieutenant Tooke divulge any details of the incidents to him. Only after Special Agent Klopf completed his independent analysis of each statement did he send the statement analysis and accompanying graphs to Lieutenant Tooke.
As in any detection of deception, verbal or nonverbal, investigators should identify clusters of behaviors. Therefore, in this study, the authors used the number of incidents of lack of conviction as a measure of accuracy. They individually counted each word or phrase that indicated a lack of conviction. The more incidents of lack of conviction used in a statement, the greater the writer's efforts to limit the accuracy of the story and, thereby, avoid providing accurate details of the event being investigated. Conversely, if no lack of conviction existed in a statement, then the statement was accurate in answering the question asked by the investigator. (6)
An accurate statement does not necessarily mean that it is a complete statement. In this study, the authors measured extraneous information as a percentage of each statement's total number of lines. (7) For example, if the statement was 50 lines long and 5 lines were identified as extraneous, then the level of extraneous information was computed as 10 percent. (8) Together, these elements formed the axes of a graph depicting the accuracy and completeness of the statement.
The first premise that the authors considered was that a statement containing a great deal of lack of conviction would not be accurate. In such cases, the writers of the statements, in effect, were hedging their bets. This proves especially crucial if lack of conviction occurs while the writer is describing a core issue. Investigators should look for any lack of conviction physically located near a central issue. While not addressed by this study, the closer the lack of conviction appears to a core issue, the more significant it should become in the investigator's evaluation. A statement with four, six, or more incidents of lack of conviction in a 1- to 2-page statement might be complete, in as much as it includes all of the salient points, but contains so many qualifying words and phrases that the details become obscured. The authors described such a statement as inaccurate but complete.
The second premise that the authors contemplated was that a statement with 25 percent, 35 percent, or more lines of extraneous information would not be complete. Extraneous information is important to the examiner. Such information may be completely truthful, but the writer may be using it as filler and replacement material in lieu of specific details about the incident. Extraneous information becomes more important as its presence increases in the statement, thereby decreasing the amount of the statement that describes the specific event.
The authors examined all of the 24 statements. Using lack of conviction and extraneous information as the two discriminators, the authors labeled each statement as--
* accurate and complete (contains no or very little lack of conviction and extraneous information and, therefore, demonstrates veracity);
* inaccurate but complete (contains significant lack of conviction but little extraneous information and, therefore, reveals lying by commission or knowingly limiting the facts of the event);
* accurate but incomplete (contains very little lack of conviction but significant extraneous information and, therefore, shows lying by omission or knowingly including other information that does not answer the question asked while leaving out and, thereby, avoiding pertinent elements of the event); or
* inaccurate and incomplete (contains significant amounts of both lack of conviction and extraneous information and, therefore, represents outright lying).
In the process, the authors studied all of the statements in-depth. As examples of their findings, the authors present excerpts from those statements that best illustrate the two elements reviewed (statement 19 as the highest amount of lack of conviction; statement 17 as the most extraneous information; and statement 20 as accurate and complete, containing neither lack of conviction nor extraneous information); the accident reconstructions (what the accident investigations and analyses revealed to Lieutenant Tooke); the statement analyses (what Special Agent Klopf found by examining the statements); and the determinations made regarding the accuracy and completeness of the statements. Statement 19, however, is categorically different from all of the other 23 statements in the study. Although it was collected as an accident report statement, it was not a report of an actual accident. Rather, the officers involved consciously decided to use their vehicles to stop the suspect from driving off a bridge in a suici de attempt. It was not a true accident. The authors included it as a basic illustration of lack of conviction despite its circumstances being different from those in the other 23 statements.
Statement 19: Lack of Conviction
This event occurred during daylight hours on the dry pavement of a .3-mile elevated roadway structure, more than 175 feet above a canal. Subsequent investigation revealed that no roadway or vehicle defects contributed to any vehicle dynamics and that the suspect intended to commit suicide by driving his van off the bridge at 85 miles per hour.
Three marked police vehicles, with full emergency equipment activated, were in pursuit of the van. As the suspect proceeded northbound across the bridge, he intentionally steered his vehicle to the left and tried to strike one of the police vehicles attempting to pass him on the left. The sergeant braked and avoided a collision. The van continued left across the other northbound lane and both southbound lanes. At between 25 and 30 miles per hour, the van diagonally struck the 12-inch high curb/sidewalk, deflecting the vehicle to the north. It then veered to the right, crossing the south and northbound lanes and again hit the curb, which prevented the van from plunging off the bridge. The suspect attempted this maneuver a total of seven times. As the van reached mid-span, the suspect made his last attempt to transverse the curb! sidewalk. As the van contacted the west curb, the sergeant rammed the left side of the van to rotate it counterclockwise and stopped a short distance north of the van, which accelerate d southbound and veered right. The right front wheel climbed the curb and deflated, with the van becoming stuck on the curb! sidewalk. At the same time, Officers Smith and Jones pinned the van between their police vehicles and the curb. The van, unable to move forward, began backing. In doing so, it caught Officer Smith's vehicle and pulled it into Officer Brown's, resulting in minor damage. The van essentially became disabled at that point, and the officers took the suspect into custody without further incident.
Special Agent Klopf found eight incidents of lack of conviction and a level of extraneous information of 15 percent. In his experience, a score of eight incidents of lack of conviction in a 42-line statement usually would indicate an inaccurate account of the incident. He generally believes that six incidents and above should represent a significant amount of lack of conviction in a statement of this length. But, the significance of lack of conviction is more than the mere number of incidents per statement. In statement 19, the location of the lack of conviction is equally important to the number of incidents. In this statement, five of the eight lack of conviction incidents occurred during a very confusing multiple-vehicle-controlled crash/stop. The officers consciously decided that the correct course of action involved using their cars to force the subject's vehicle to stop. When the officer used qualifying or modifying descriptors in his statement to describe the pursuit-ending crash, the statement became inaccurate. It is of interest to the investigator in that it identifies those areas of the incident where further questioning and accident reconstruction need to be pursued. The officer providing the statement legitimately qualified his language at this point in the statement because he may not have been absolutely positive about what happened at the end of the vehicle chase when all four cars collided and the situation became confused. So, he hedged his report, but not in such a way as to cause an investigator any concern. This type of lack of conviction may not indicate deception, only understandable caution in reporting a multiple-vehicle crash. Police officers are taught to state only those facts that they can verify. When they cannot make a statement with scientific certainty, officers qualify their answers or observations with words that appear as a lack of commitment, but, in reality, reflect their trained response to state only those facts that they can verify. This use of understandable caution throu gh the use of lack of conviction needs further study to determine its implications for statement analysis.
Special Agent Klopfs analysis revealed this statement as inaccurate but complete. Despite Special Agent Klopf's placing this statement in the inaccurate but complete section, the lack of conviction that occurs at the end of the statement would not overly concern the investigator. Using the known facts determined through appropriate police traffic collision investigative procedures, Lieutenant Tooke agreed with Special Agent Klopfs analysis.
Statement 17: Extraneous Information
This motor vehicle collision occurred in a residential/light industrial area, with a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour for both roadways. Both roadways ("A" Avenue and "B" Street) have one unmarked travel lane in each direction, with parallel parking permitted on both sides of the street.
The police vehicle was northbound on A Avenue approaching B Street. The civilian vehicle was eastbound on B Street approaching A Avenue. The police vehicle disregarded a posted stop sign and impacted the civilian vehicle broadside, redirecting the civilian vehicle's direction of travel. The civilian vehicle proceeded diagonally through the intersection, over a 4-inch high curb, and across a planting strip and sidewalk before colliding with a building. During impact and disengagement, the police vehicle rotated nearly 180 degrees, coming to rest southbound in the middle of B Street east of A Avenue. The police vehicle bumped a parked vehicle on B Street as it was stopping, resulting in no reportable damage. Examination of the roadway revealed that the police vehicle had started braking at least 34 feet prior to impact and was braking at impact. No precollision evasive action was noted for the civilian vehicle; however, 21.2 feet of braking occurred after disengagement prior to colliding with the building. Neit her occupant in the civilian vehicle knew that a police vehicle had struck them until the officer contacted them. No one, other than the officer, indicated the use of a siren. With the stopping distance for a vehicle traveling 25 miles per hour under the circumstances that existed for this collision of 87 feet and the view obstructions created by vehicles, vegetation, and structures, it became evident that the civilian driver could not have avoided the collision. From the precollision deceleration, steering input, and the collision dynamics, it also became evident that the police vehicle was traveling at an excessive speed and that the officer recognized one or more hazards prior to impact.
Special Agent Klopf found only two incidents of lack of conviction in statement 17, which indicated that what it reported was accurate. However, his rating of 49 percent extraneous information indicated that this statement was incomplete. By including so much extraneous information in his statement, the officer avoided important issues while answering the question used to generate the statement (what happened?). The officer did not state his speed when entering the intersection of B Street and A Avenue. The officer never stated whether he applied his brakes. The fact that he stated his car spun a full 180 degrees upon impact and that the civilian's car continued onto a lawn area indicated that excessive speed was a factor on the part of the officer's or the civilian's car. Also, the officer did not identify any witnesses. Finally, the officer never indicated the seriousness of the injuries sustained by the occupants of the other car.
At 49 percent extraneous information, almost one-half of this statement does not address core issues. Unlike statement 19, this statement should give pause to the investigator because a great deal of pertinent information was left out. The officer spent most of the statement talking about the nature of the call he was responding to, the reasons why he was only using his siren at intersections, and his belief that the other vehicle was traveling faster than the posted 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. When he finally got around to discussing the actual crash and, thereby, answering what happened, he did so in the last four words of lines 13 through 16. This represents only 3.2 lines out of a total of 21 lines, or only 15 percent, of the statement addressing the central issue. Thus, statement analysis provided the investigator with the insight to follow up in the areas of the police vehicle's speed and braking and input from accident witnesses.
Special Agent Klopfs analysis revealed this statement as accurate but incomplete due to the amount of missing information vital to the central issue of the incident. Lieutenant Tooke agreed with this analysis.
Accurate and Complete
This accident occurred at a traffic signal-controlled intersection of two one-way arterial roadways ("C" Avenue and "D" Street), with posted speed limits of 30 miles per hour. Each roadway has three marked travel lanes with parking spaces on both sides of the roadways.
The civilian vehicle was traveling northbound on C Avenue in the center lane. The police vehicle, with all emergency equipment operating, was traveling eastbound on D Street in the left lane. A second police vehicle, also with all emergency equipment operating, was directly behind it. The traffic control signal for the police vehicles was red as they approached the intersection, and the vehicles stopped prior to entering. On C Avenue, a passenger vehicle in the left lane and a sightseeing bus in the right lane stopped, yielding to the emergency vehicles. Both police vehicles accelerated slowly. As the first police vehicle neared the center lane, it stopped as the civilian vehicle approached. The civilian driver, observing the police vehicle, steered right and braked. The civilian vehicle began to rotate in a clockwise direction, and the left rear portion contacted the first police vehicle's front bumper push bars. A combination of the civilian vehicle's speed, steering input, braking action, and contact with the push bars caused the vehicle to rotate 180 degrees. Four citizen witnesses and the civilian vehicle driver acknowledged that the police vehicle had its emergency equipment operating and that it was stopped at the time of the collision.
Special Agent Klopf found no occurrences of lack of conviction or extraneous information in statement 20. The statement analysis for it was much like the statement itself--short, direct, accurate, and complete and the investigator should accept it as such.
Special Agent Klopf's analysis revealed this statement as the epitome of an accurate and complete statement. Lieutenant Tooke again agreed with this assessment.
For all 24 statements, Special Agent Klopfs analysis correctly matched the known truth for each one. Lieutenant Tooke used proper police traffic collision investigative procedures, while Special Agent Klopf used two elements of statement analysis to gain insight into the accuracy and completeness of the officers' statements. Using only two elements of statement analysis and the officers' own statements, Special Agent Klopf correctly identified the accurate and complete statements. Furthermore, the authors, using two different approaches, identified those statements that required further investigation because of inaccurate or incomplete information in the officer statements. When they "compared notes" after their individual reviews of the statements, the authors found that they were in complete agreement about each statement's salient points. Only two of the 24 statements, 19 and 17, fell outside the accurate and complete category. Statement 19 contained an understandable and acceptable use of lack of convicti on on the part of the reporting officer and would not concern an investigator. Statement 17 fell in the accurate but incomplete classification. The reporting officer did not address the critical issue of his speed at the time of the accident. Both authors identified speed as the key item not discussed in the statement. Lieutenant Tooke used the accident investigation to identify speed as the missing element, whereas Special Agent Klopf examined the extraneous information from the statement to identify the incompleteness of the statement with regard to speed. This missing element would need to be established by further investigation. In addition, statements 3 and 13 fell in and just past the area of concern for extraneous information, with scores of 38 and 36 percent, respectively. This amount of extraneous information raised a concern as to the completeness of the statements. Investigators should start to ask themselves why over one-third of the lines of each statement dealt with something other than the ques tion asked to generate it. In other words, what critical piece of information did the writer not discuss while, instead, providing extraneous information?
Overall, this small study indicated that investigators can gain valuable insight into cases quickly by using only two elements of statement analysis. Clearly, lack of conviction proved a good tool for identifying accuracy. Basically, if statements are truthful, then they would be written simply and directly. Investigators should be suspicious of any hedging of the writer's language. If the writer uses too many qualifying words, the statement becomes increasingly less accurate. Investigators then should direct their resources to determine why the statement was inaccurately written. However, they must take care not to form hasty conclusions. The inaccuracy may not occur because the writer was involved in threatening behavior or in the crime under investigation. Rather, it may exist for some totally innocent reason or because the writer was involved in some other illegal or illicit activity. Investigators must remember that statement analysis is just one of many tools that they can use to gain insight into a cas e and to detect possible deception. Statement analysis only enhances common sense and the development of case facts. Moreover, in analyzing the 24 statements for this study, it became apparent that the quantity of lack of conviction was not the only significant factor in a statement. If the lack of conviction physically occurs near a central issue, the investigator should give it more weight. If the writer qualifies the critical issues, then lack of conviction becomes more significant.
Extraneous information appeared as a strong indicator of the incompleteness of a statement. Typically, truthful statements are short and to the point. Individuals who are being deceptive may feel compelled to say something--anything--because silence on their part appears damning to them. They experience a strong urge to appear to answer investigators' questions with nonincriminating information because they must supply some type of answer. A large amount of extraneous information in a statement indicates that descriptions of the event may be incomplete. The writer avoids answering the question and attempts to camouflage the response with extraneous information. Now, the investigator has to determine why the writer did not answer the question. This is no simple task, but statement analysis can get the investigator to that moment of investigative insight quickly and cleanly. In many cases, the lead investigator may not even speak to the writer until after reviewing the statement and determining whether it conta ins inaccuracies or a lack of completeness. In short, forewarned is forearmed.
Although this study was limited in scope, it revealed the statement analysis field examination technique (SAFE-T) as a quick method of analyzing a statement to determine accuracy and completeness, but not as a scientific or precise instrument. Additional research must take place to establish the reliability and validity of SAFE-T. Researchers need to analyze more statements for lack of conviction and extraneous information to determine if the findings in this study will hold true. Moreover, in this study, one person performed all of the statement analyses. In future studies, it would prove useful to determine if a group of trained evaluators can consistently identify lack of conviction and extraneous information in the same statements. If SAFE-T is to be a valuable tool for law enforcement officers, research must establish its interrater reliability.
In addition, researchers should examine additional elements of statement analysis to determine the reliability and validity of each element individually and when used together as a whole system. These studies should use rigid research processes for statistical analysis so that their results can provide a sound scientific and theoretical basis for statement analysis with regard to the accuracy and completeness of statements.
Finally, the typical question, "Is the person telling the truth?" is too simplistic. Too often, investigators use their "gut feelings" to guide them. Research has indicated that officers tend to overestimate their ability to detect deception. It would appear that statement analysis has the potential, as a tool in the trained investigator's hands, to more empirically determine if a statement is accurate and complete. Therefore, further research can help establish statement analysis as a reliable and valid tool for investigators.
Determining the truth represents one of the most important tasks that law enforcement officers must accomplish. Wading through evidence and following up on leads require time and perseverance, but statement analysis can help. Oftentimes, officers can uncover valuable information from examining the statements of individuals, sometimes more than the individuals intended to convey.
By using only two statement analysis elements, this study provides a field technique whereby investigators can assess the accuracy and completeness of a statement. Such an analysis can quickly give officers valuable insight into a statement and suggest areas for follow-up investigation.
(1.) Steven W. Horowitz, "Empirical Support for Statement Validity Assessment," Behavioral Assessment 13 (1991): 294-295.
(2.) For additional information, see Susan H. Adams, "Statement Analysis: What Do Suspects' Words Really Reveal?" FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 1996, 12-20.
(3.) Additional elements of statement analysis, include changes in language, editing phrases, time, and specific parts of speech, especially verbs, nouns, and pronouns.
(4.) Don Rabon, Investigative Discourse Analysis (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1994), 20.
(5.) Wendell C. Rudacille, Identifying Lies in Disguise (Ellicott City, MD: Verifacts Systems, Inc., 1994), 34.
(6.) It should be noted, however, that the authors, on occasion, have analyzed statements from individuals who may have been mentally ill when writing their statements. Such individuals appear able to write a totally erroneous statement with complete conviction. SAFE-T will not identify the veracity of this type of statement.
(7.) All statements were double-spaced, and each line was numbered.
(8.) A more accurate measure would be a percentage of the total word count. This was not used in this study because a simple "eyeball" measurement was desired to keep the analysis quick and direct, giving the investigator a tool to use "on the spot."
RELATED ARTICLE: Excerpts from Statements 17 and 19
16 continued forward up onto the garden area of a building. (Which leads me
17 to believe that the other vehicle was moving at a rate of speed in excess of the posted
18 25 MPH limit. This is probably another reason that I did not see the other vehicle). I
1 On 04/20/99 @ approximately 0459 hrs., I was responding to the report of a possible
2 homicide that had just occurred.... The caller stated that he was the shooter and
3 that he had just killed either his "lover or brother", I don't remember which.
4 Radio got no response, so they started dispatching units and I answered up stating
5 that I was responding.
32 Southbound. My patrol can apparently bounced off the van as I attempted to pin it to
33 the West curb. It somehow slithered out from in front of me and was almost
34 immediately pinned to and up on the curb, by Off. Smith's and Off. Brown's patrol
Note: Extraneous information is highlighted and lack of conviction is circled.
Special Agent Klopf is an instructor in the Law Enforcement Communication Unit at the FBI Academy.
Lieutenant Tooke serves with the Seattle, Washington, Police Department and is an ACTAR-accredited collision reconstructionist.