Perception of Acceptability and Usability of a Modified Cognitive Interview in the Evaluation of Police Training in France

Abstract

Since the 1980s, a large body of research has proven the superiority of enhanced or modified cognitive interviews over the standard interviews used by police officers around the world. Although the cognitive interview is well grounded in theory and has proven practical value, this tool is not always used by police officers. The objective of the present study was to measure the various dimensions of Nielsen’s 1993 acceptability model and thus understand what prevents police officers in France from using a modified cognitive interview. We recruited 23 police officers who had an average of ~ 20 years of police force experience, and trained them for at least two days in how to perform a modified cognitive interview. We measured the modified cognitive interview’s social acceptability, compatibility, and usability at different time points during the training. Our results showed that (i) a modified cognitive interview is social acceptable, (ii) environmental conditions and time constraints appears to be crucial facilitating or blocking factors, and (ii) the usability of the modified cognitive interview’s components is variable. These findings may be of value in improving police training.

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Correspondence to Maite Brunel.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Ethical Statement

This research was conducted within the framework of a partnership agreement between the University of Lille and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Gendarmerie Region, signed on 15 October 2015. The authors would like to thank the military police force for its support. All opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Gendarmerie Region. We thank David Fraser (Biotech Communication SARL, Ploudalmézeau, France) and Brian Stacy for copy-editing assistance. The copyediting assistance of this paper has been supported by the European center for humanities and social sciences (MESHS-Lille, France) and by the French Ministry of Higher education, research and innovation.

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Appendices

Appendix

Report everything

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to recount absolutely everything that they remembered, even if the information appeared to be unimportant, trivial or only partially remembered, e.g. by saying “Please tell me absolutely everything that you remember about [the event], even if you think that what you remember is not important” and “Please tell me everything and don’t leave out any details—even if you can only remember some of them”

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer instructing the witness to recount what they remembered but failing to emphasize the importance of recounting everything, however trivial (e.g., failing to say “Tell me everything you remember” or “Explain everything to me”)

Mental reinstatement of context

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer instructing the witness to reconstruct the environmental and emotional context of the to-be-remembered event. This could be done by asking the witness to recall all the features of the physical environment, and to describe their emotions through a series of instructions and by giving the witness to think between each instruction, e.g., “Try to think back to the day you witnessed [the event]”; “Try to create a picture in your mind of what you witnessed,” “On the day that you witnessed [the event], how were you feeling? Where were you going?” and “Try to think about what you could hear… who were you with… and what the weather was like?”

The partial use of this component was scored as if the interviewer’s instructions were too brief or insufficiently clear to facilitate mental reinstatement of the context (i.e. usually just a single instruction like “think back to that day” or “think about who you were with when you saw[the event]”)

Multiple retrievals

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to give an additional freely recalled account (with or without specific mnemonic instructions) of what they had experienced and not interrupting that account

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to give an initial freely recalled account but then interrupting that account

Open depth instruction

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to give an additional free recall by focusing his/her attention on details that he/she had not been able to report. The interviewer specified that repetition was not a problem, and that the witness could “freeze” on each mental image and describe it.

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to give an additional free recall of details but failing to emphasize the importance of repeating details and/or “freezing” on certain images

Re-enactment

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness for additional free recall by focusing his/her attention on actions. The interviewer specified that the witness should break down the event into actions and positions, and that the objective was to accurately re-enact the event on the basis of his/her testimony

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness for additional free recall of the event but failing to emphasize the importance of breaking down the event into actions and positions

Changing order

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to give an additional free recall of the events in reverse order. The witness could begin with the last event and describe what happened just before that event, and then what happened just before that.

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to describing the event in reverse order but without suggesting how this might be done.

Probing image

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to remember a moment of the event where she had best seen the object or the person. The interviewer then suggested that the witness should concentrate on this image before fully describing the object.

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to remember a moment where she had best seen the object but failing to give the witness enough time to concentrate on the image before having to describe it.

The component was scored as not being used if the interviewer merely asked the witness to describe the object.

Person description instruction

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to describe a person in a general-to-specific manner (i.e., the witness is asked to first describe general features and then describe specific features). After the initial general description, the interviewer asked the witness to describe the face of the person by starting with the lower part (the chin) and then moving up

The partial use of this component was defined as the interviewer giving only one of the instructions or giving both instructions but failing to let the interviewee give an initial description.

The component was scored as not being used if the interviewer merely asking the witness to describe the person but failing to give specific instructions.

Drawing

The full use of this component was defined as the interviewer asking the witness to sketch a plan. Otherwise, the component was scored as not having been used

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Brunel, M., Launay, C., Hermant, M. et al. Perception of Acceptability and Usability of a Modified Cognitive Interview in the Evaluation of Police Training in France. J Police Crim Psych (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-020-09416-9

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Keywords

  • Perception
  • Acceptability
  • Cognitive interview
  • Training
  • Police officers