While it’s definitely easier to interview a cooperative witness than a defensive suspect, some challenges are still involved in the process. And when the interview is conducted remotely, there are even more hurdles to clear.
Knowing how to approach one of these interviews can improve your chances of success.
Tips for Effective Remote Witness Interview
Interviewing a witness remotely definitely feels different. But the key to a successful remote interview is to treat it the same as you would an in-person interview. Acknowledge that there are differences with not being physically face-to-face, but don’t let the screen change your approach.
With all of that being said, here are a few tips that you might find helpful:
1. Get the Right Technology
For starters, make sure you have the right technology. While Zoom might seem like a secure and easy-to-use platform, there are much better options. Sorting through these options ahead of time will ensure your remote interviews go off without a hitch.
One option is to go with a dedicated video recording and observation solution. This is especially important if you plan on interviewing children. Child advocacy video recording systems have all the tools and features needed to record and archive videos that can be used in legal proceedings.
2. Know the Technology
The next step is to know your technology. There’s nothing more distracting (or compromising) to an interviewee than an interviewer who clearly lacks experience and comfort with the technology. You want them to feel at ease (and you do this by showing proficiency with the platform you’re using).
For example, if you’re using a system that allows other investigators to observe remotely and speak to you (without the witness knowing), be sure you’ve practiced this feature before. Otherwise, an issue could cause the interviewee to clam up.
If this will be your first time using the platform, we recommend practicing with a couple of mock interviews. In addition to helping you work on all of the features, this will give you experience with recording and saving the interview after it’s completed. (There’s nothing worse than conducting an interview and then realizing you didn’t record it properly. So always have a dry run beforehand!)
3. Ensure Adequate Privacy
Privacy is a huge concern when it comes to remote witness interviews. You’ll need to ensure both the interviewer and the interviewee have optimum privacy measures in place.
“Because both you and the witness are likely going to be at home during the interview, try to schedule the interview for a time when you both will have a private, quiet space available,” Wagener Law explains. “If you have children, you may need to alert them to your upcoming video call to ensure they do not accidentally interrupt by blasting the television or yelling while playing their favorite video game.”
As for the interviewee, always start the discussion by asking if they’re comfortable answering questions in their current location. If there’s any hesitation in their answer, it may be best to reschedule and/or encourage the individual to safely relocate.
4. Build Quick Rapport
Building a quick rapport with a cooperative witness is always a good idea. But in a remote setting, it’s even more important. You should take the first several minutes to get to know the individual. Ask them how they’re doing and look for ways to bond over mutual interests. You don’t want to cross the line and get too personal, but sharing a few details can soften the situation and get the individual to open up more once the questioning starts.
5. Be Prepared
Always master the known facts of the case prior to the interview. Review prior interviews, case files, and any other details you have. The less superfluous questions you have to ask, the better. This allows you to focus on the factors that matter most.
While it’s okay to prepare a basic outline for your interview (keep it off-screen), avoid writing out every question you want to ask. This will distract you from listening. It could also prevent you from asking the proper follow-up questions.
Adding It All Up
When approached with the right preparation and mental mindset, interviewing a witness remotely can feel just as natural as being in the same room. The key is to do your research ahead of time and master the nuances of virtual interrogation.
With time, you can learn this skill in the same way that you’ve learned any other skill: with practice!