Shortly after the crime, investigators discover fingerprints and trails of blood at the crime scene that could stem from the perpetrator. Yet, two weeks pass until experts finally collect these traces. Who would expect them to still find anything of use? What seems really strange, even unthinkable, when it comes to handling physical evidence, is business as usual when the police deal with eyewitness evidence. In this blog we will present a remedy for this, a new method ensuring immediate recording of eyewitness accounts.
Due to limited police resources, witnesses are often interviewed with a delay of days or weeks after the crime occurred. In this case, witnesses can be expected to roughly recall the incident, while specific details, such as the license plate number, are likely to be forgotten at this stage. However, specific details are often most relevant for solving a case. Forgotten information is lost to the investigators just as fingerprints that were wiped away before they are collected. Hence, witnesses’ recollections should be treated just as physical evidence – they should be secured, that is, recorded in an interview, immediately after the crime.
But what if this is not possible due to limited police resources? In this case witnesses can interview themselves with the Self-Administered Interview (SAI; Dutch: Zelfrapportage voor Getuigen, ZeG). This booklet is distributed to witnesses at the crime scene where they complete it in writing, literally interviewing themselves. The SAI contains several recall-enhancing instructions, including mentally reinstating the incident before writing down the recollections. The tool is suitable for all types of crime. It consists of several sections in which the incident, the perpetrator(s), potential vehicles, further witnesses, and the witnessing conditions can be described. Moreover, witnesses are asked to draw a sketch of the scene. The evaluation of the SAI is positive: Immediately after the crime, it elicits comprehensive and accurate statements that can be used for investigation purposes. Furthermore, research has shown that witnesses who first completed an SAI perform better in a subsequent interview. That is, the SAI preserves the witness’ memory for a later interview. As such, it supports the police during the investigations. The tool is already in use in a few countries, among them the UK, Norway and the Netherlands.
Hope, L., Gabbert, F., & Fisher, R. P. (2011). From laboratory to the street: Capturing witness memory using the Self-Administered Interview. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 16, 211-226. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8333.2011.02015.x
Krix, A. C., Sauerland, M., & Schreuder, M. J. (2013). Hoe getuigen zichzelf kunnen verhoren: de Zelfrapportage voor getuigen. Expertise en Recht, 5/6/2013, 180-184.
Written by Alana C. Krix and Melanie Sauerland, this blog was originally published in German at de.in-mind.org.