What Are The Advantages Of Conducting Remote Interviews?

When the pandemic first shut down the office and sent our unit to work from home, we thought the situation was temporary. Now, here we are a few years later, and many Covid-era work practices seem to be here to stay. I remember early discussions with executive management and my investigative division about what obstacles remote work would present. The answer was unanimous: How will we conduct effective interviews (and interrogations) over the internet? While this change undoubtedly pushed the limits of our previous interviewing skills, here we are a few years later, still conducting remote interviews and still closing cases with successful criminal prosecutions and civil litigations.

What are the advantages of conducting remote interviews?

Every shadow has a light, and remote interviews are no different. While this new way of working has created new challenges, it also offers some advantages to the investigator and their agency.

Video-Recorded Interviews

For starters, most agencies did not video-record interviews for witnesses. While video was an essential tool for interrogating suspects, witness interviews were often audio-recorded or memorialized on either a statement written by the witness or memoranda of interviews drafted by the investigator. Now, with online interviews available to almost any agency, video-recorded interviews are readily available to anyone you speak to during your case. A good defense attorney can more effectively challenge written statements and audio recordings. Video, however, is an open book to show a judge or jurors what the interviewee said and how they said it. Most investigators know that a high percentage of communication between two people is non-verbal. Video captures this information that is not available in audio or written statements.

The New Norm

When Covid closed offices, it forced investigators to conduct more business online and moved court cases and hearings to online platforms. Because of this, courts now consider online interviews a normal part of the business. If the court hearing, whether civil or criminal, can be held online, you will not have any problem introducing remote interviews of witnesses.

Many investigators were hesitant to move to remote interviews. Some thought we would be back in the office and that business would resume back to in-person interviews. Others felt uncomfortable with the new format. We quickly made excuses for pushing for conducting interviews in person, but that is still not the most common type of witness interview in this post-pandemic era. However, supervisors and investigative managers quickly saw opportunities for different work models and a chance to improve investigative performance. These factors still offer huge benefits over the way we used to work. These include improvements in cases assignments, travel budgets, and investigative timelines.

Geography

Before remote interviews, geography primarily dictated case assignments. If there is a case in one part of the city or state, assigning the case to an investigator who works in that region makes good sense. This case assignment process means that a group of 40 investigators who were positioned around the state couldn’t act as a pool of 40 available investigators. Big cities were sure to have more reported allegations, so investigators in that area would get more cases than an investigator who worked in a more rural setting. With remote interviews, however, geography no longer necessitates assigning cases by region. An investigator can efficiently work an investigation in any part of the city, state, or country. This benefit acted as a force multiplier for investigative units everywhere. So much so that teams who now have the authorization to conduct interviews in person still opt for remote interviews. In effect, every investigator can now work remotely in any part of the team’s jurisdiction.

Travel & Money

Remote interviews also minimize the need for investigators to travel. Before, I had to send an investigator across the state to conduct an investigation. The investigator would leave for a week, losing flight or drive time to the location and between interviews. Lastly, the investigator had to travel back home. This traveling required an excessive amount of time and money.

Time

An investigator might spend a week working in another city. While they are gone, they often do not have time to focus on other tasks. The agency pays for hotel, car rental, gas, food, drinks, etc. A few years ago, it was not uncommon for an investigator to spend $1200 and five workdays to interview four or five witnesses. Today, with remote interviews, an investigator can do that same work in a few hours on a single day without costing the agency one penny extra.

Improved Efficiency

Cutting out the travel time allows the investigator to do more in less time. This change has sharply decreased the average case life at my agency, while quality has improved. All the ill effects Covid had on the workplace also produced several efficiencies that we would have never discovered. This realization brings me to my last point; the most significant hangup investigators have over remote interviews is the biggest reason I support them. I don’t want to go back to more spending, longer case times, and less productivity, just so an investigator can interview someone face-to-face.

Before I get to this last point, I want readers to know that our investigators always have the option to travel and meet with people in person. However, they have to justify why they are requesting travel and how it will produce a result that warrants the expense. Most often, the argument I hear is that good interviews require person-to-person contact. The question I always have floating in my head is whether the in-person interview will produce better results or whether the investigator does not feel confident in their ability to interview a person remotely.

Supervisors and investigators need to weigh whether the extra time and money will get us something that the remote interview will not.

I think this is scratching on the surface of another article, but at this time, I will say that the investigator and supervisor need to answer a few questions honestly. Does my case rely on the outcome of this interview? Will my investigation fall flat if I cannot get the information I need? These are the types of justifications I usually receive from investigators who would like to travel.

As someone who reads and approves investigative reports every day, I can tell you with confidence that if you believe your case is going to succeed or fail based on a witness interview, then you most likely do not have a viable case.

You’ll need more than a witness statement to win a trial, whether civil or criminal. The point here is to travel when necessary, but don’t make your trip a lottery ticket scratching session. Sometimes, I kid that if investigators had to pay for their travel expenses, they would have invented and mastered the remote interview years ago. Tell me I’m wrong.

I hope the information outlined in the articles on remote interviews inspires confidence when using the remote interview as a tool. It is empowering to understand the drawbacks, recommendations, and advantages of this tool so you can add it to your investigator toolbox. Armed with this information, we should all realize that remote interviews are not better or worse; they are just different. However we feel about remote interviews, they are here to stay, and as professionals, we should develop and master this critical skill.

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