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What is the Reid Technique?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Reid technique is a method of interrogating suspects in a crime. It is used by many police forces around the world and is particularly popular in the United States. The technique was created by a man named John E. Reid, and his company sells videos and other training materials teaching people the particularities of how to properly use it. This method, which relies on assuming absolute guilt from the very beginning of the interrogation process, has critics who believe that it causes people to confess when they aren’t actually guilty. It’s been banned in some countries for this reason and is often the subject of major controversy.

In the beginning of an interrogation, an individual using the Reid technique will start by going through a long explanation of exactly why the suspect is guilty. This is typically done in a very nice and friendly way. The interrogator goes to great lengths to avoid being interrupted by the suspect and tries to forestall any denials.

The next step is normally to start giving the suspect an "out" of some kind. For example, in a murder case, the interrogator might envision a scenario where the murder almost seems justified. A police officer using the Reid technique may even seem to sympathize with the suspect’s hypothetical motives. At the same time, they will generally offer contrasting possible motives that are much worse so that the suspect is more likely to jump on the less incriminating possibility.

People trained to resist the Reid technique will usually try to maintain an atmosphere of total confrontation from the beginning. The person under suspicion doesn’t want to fall into the trap of believing that the interrogator is his or her friend. The general idea is to challenge any assertions and immediately turn everything into an argument. In some cases, it’s even recommended that the person under interrogation should personally insult the interrogator so that the atmosphere turns as hostile as possible.

Some say the Reid technique is an unjust way to interrogate people. It’s been blamed for many false confessions, especially among juveniles and those with mental handicaps. There are also plenty of people who favor the technique, and they generally stress the fact that it’s only used when investigators are nearly certain that the person being questioned is guilty. In fact, according to some sources, the first and most important step in the Reid technique is to establish a strong suspect by investigating the crime thoroughly and ruling out all other possibilities.

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Discussion Comments

By lluviaporos — On May 02, 2012

@indigomoth - It sounds like there are ways of overcoming the Reid technique, like the article says. Getting confrontational can work, although I think I'd be nervous to do that with the police, or with foreign captors for that matter.

Personally I don't think it should be used at all.

If it has got people to give false confessions in the past, it sounds like it has very little credibility. How could you ever really believe a confession that had been got with this technique?

On the other hand, I once saw an episode of a detective TV show (I forget which one) in which they had a suspect and were trying to get him to tell them where he had hidden the boy he kidnapped before the kid died.

In the end one of the cops kind of used that final step, pretending to sympathize with the criminal's motives in order to get him to confess where his hiding place was.

So it's hard to really put a firm rule onto when the technique should be be used and when it shouldn't I guess.

By indigomoth — On May 01, 2012

@irontoenail - This is one of the reasons that police aren't the ones who determine whether or not someone is guilty of a crime, the courts decide that. It's one of the reasons "innocent until proven guilty" is so important.

The Reid technique of interviewing and interrogation is just a technique, a method of gathering evidence like any other and it should be used in that way and the evidence it gathers should be seen in that light.

And I don't think it should ever be used on people under a certain age, or vulnerable people like those who are mentally disabled or who have just suffered a tremendous shock.

What I do think is that it should be used in the place of torture. I mean, really, it seems like an effective way of getting real information from people. Why resort to violence and humiliation when you have other methods at your disposal?

By irontoenail — On May 01, 2012
I can't help but wonder if using this technique causes the police who are following it some harm as well.

I mean, if you are required to act for hours as though you believe a person to be guilty, and if you already had a strong suspicion that they were guilty at the beginning of the process, then you are more than likely going to walk out the door after doing this Reid interrogation convinced that the suspect is guilty, whether they confessed or not.

You'd be looking for any cue that they were guilty, like nervousness or whatever, that you could use in the interrogation. But those cues would also reinforce your belief, even if they could be explained in another way.

I'm not exactly saying it's a bad idea, I just think it sounds kind of dangerous. Not only for people who might be falsely accused but in general I'd prefer for police to keep an open mind, just because they could be letting the criminal go free, while they are convinced they have him in custody.

They were convinced by their own interrogation technique, rather than by the facts.

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