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Question: How is the FETI interviewing technique different from the traditional REID interviewing approach...

10 Jul 2024,2:00 AM

1. How is the FETI interviewing technique different from the traditional REID interviewing approach that was taught to law enforcement and others conducting investigations?

2. Why is memory recall related to traumatic events and experiences more reliable after 48 hours and how should this understanding of the neurobiology of trauma impact standard operating procedures for police interviews with victims?

3. How has the historical lack of understanding related to trauma responses (victim behavior and memory recall) impacted believability of crime victims?





Comparative Analysis of Interview Techniques and the Impact of Trauma on Memory Recall in Law Enforcement Investigations


Law enforcement has long relied on various interviewing techniques to extract reliable information from suspects, witnesses, and victims. Two notable techniques in this context are the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) and the Reid technique. This essay aims to elucidate the distinct differences between these methods, emphasizing how FETI's trauma-informed approach significantly diverges from the traditional Reid technique. Moreover, it will explore the neurobiological basis for improved memory recall related to traumatic events after a 48-hour period, discussing the implications for standard police operating procedures. Finally, the essay will examine the historical lack of understanding regarding trauma responses, focusing on how misconceptions about victim behavior and memory recall have affected the credibility of crime victims.

1. Differences Between FETI and REID Interviewing Techniques

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) and the Reid Technique are two distinct methodologies employed in law enforcement for extracting information from individuals during investigations. Understanding the fundamental differences between these techniques is crucial in appreciating their respective impacts on the interviewee and the quality of information obtained.

The FETI technique diverges significantly from the Reid technique in its foundational approach, objectives, and application, especially concerning the treatment of trauma victims.

FETI Technique

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) is a victim-centric approach that recognizes the impact of trauma on memory and behavior. Developed by Russell Strand, FETI is designed to create a safe environment where victims can recount their experiences without fear of judgment or re-traumatization. The technique emphasizes empathetic listening, open-ended questions, and a non-linear narrative flow, allowing victims to share their experiences in their own words and at their own pace.

Research in trauma-informed care highlights that trauma can disrupt the brain's ability to process and recall events linearly. FETI addresses this by encouraging interviewers to avoid leading questions and instead focus on sensory and experiential details. For example, instead of asking "What happened next?" an interviewer might ask, "Can you tell me about what you were feeling at that moment?" This approach helps in piecing together a more accurate and comprehensive account of the event from the victim's perspective.

Reid Technique

In contrast, the Reid Technique, developed by John E. Reid in the 1950s, is a widely used interrogation method focused on eliciting confessions from suspects. It involves a nine-step process designed to increase psychological pressure on the interviewee, often using confrontational and accusatory tactics. This technique assumes that a suspect will reveal the truth under enough stress and pressure.

Critics argue that the Reid Technique can lead to false confessions, particularly among vulnerable individuals such as juveniles or those with cognitive impairments. For instance, the case of the Central Park Five, where five teenagers falsely confessed to a crime they did not commit under intense interrogation, underscores the potential pitfalls of this approach.

In summary, while the FETI technique prioritizes the mental and emotional well-being of the interviewee, recognizing the complexities of trauma, the Reid Technique relies on psychological manipulation to obtain confessions, often at the expense of accuracy and ethical considerations.

2. Neurobiology of Trauma and Memory Recall

Understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of trauma is essential in comprehending why memory recall of traumatic events tends to improve after a 48-hour period. This section delves into the science behind trauma and its implications for law enforcement practices.

The delayed improvement in memory recall after traumatic events is rooted in the brain's processing mechanisms, which have significant implications for the timing and conduct of police interviews with victims.

Neurobiological Basis for Improved Recall

When an individual experiences a traumatic event, the brain's immediate response involves the activation of the amygdala and the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response but also impair the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thinking and memory processing. Initially, this can result in fragmented and incomplete recollections of the event.

According to studies in neurobiology, such as those conducted by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, it takes time for the brain to process and integrate traumatic memories. Within 48 hours, the heightened stress response diminishes, allowing the hippocampus to begin organizing and consolidating memories more effectively. This delay can lead to more coherent and detailed recollections after the initial shock has subsided.

Implications for Police Interviews

Understanding this neurobiological process has profound implications for law enforcement. Traditional practices often involve interviewing victims immediately after the event, potentially leading to incomplete or inaccurate statements. Incorporating a mandatory waiting period before conducting detailed interviews could enhance the reliability of the information obtained.

A study by the National Institute of Justice found that victims who were interviewed after a 48-hour period provided more accurate and consistent accounts compared to those interviewed immediately. This suggests that law enforcement agencies should adapt their standard operating procedures to include this waiting period, coupled with trauma-informed interviewing techniques like FETI.

Incorporating an understanding of the neurobiology of trauma into police protocols can significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of victim statements, ensuring that the justice system better serves and protects victims of crime.

3. Historical Impact of Misunderstanding Trauma Responses

The historical lack of understanding regarding trauma responses has led to widespread misconceptions about victim behavior and memory recall, often undermining the credibility of crime victims.

The misinterpretation of trauma-induced behaviors and memory lapses has historically contributed to the disbelief and secondary victimization of crime victims within the justice system.

Misconceptions and Their Consequences

Victims of trauma often exhibit behaviors that seem counterintuitive to those unfamiliar with trauma responses. For example, a victim may appear calm, detached, or inconsistent in their recounting of events, which can be mistakenly interpreted as signs of dishonesty or complicity.

Dr. Judith Herman, in her seminal work "Trauma and Recovery," explains that trauma can lead to dissociation, where victims detach from the emotional impact of the event as a coping mechanism. This can result in seemingly disjointed or emotionless recounting of traumatic experiences. Historically, such responses have been misinterpreted by law enforcement and the judicial system, leading to the dismissal of valid testimonies. The case of Elizabeth Loftus’s research on memory highlights how suggestibility and external pressures can further distort a victim's recollection, often resulting in skepticism about their reliability.

Impact on Victim Credibility

The disbelief of victims based on their trauma responses has profound implications. It not only hampers the pursuit of justice but also perpetuates a cycle of trauma and mistrust in the legal system. Victims who feel disbelieved are less likely to report crimes or cooperate with investigations, further enabling perpetrators.

For example, in sexual assault cases, victims often face intense scrutiny and disbelief, as seen in the high-profile case of Christine Blasey Ford during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Ford's calm demeanor and gaps in memory were used to question her credibility, despite extensive evidence supporting the typical trauma responses she exhibited.

A better understanding of trauma responses is essential for ensuring that victims are treated with the respect and empathy they deserve, thereby improving the overall effectiveness and fairness of the justice system.


In conclusion, the FETI and Reid techniques represent two fundamentally different approaches to interviewing in law enforcement, with FETI’s trauma-informed methodology offering significant advantages over the confrontational Reid technique. The neurobiological basis for improved memory recall after a 48-hour period highlights the need for changes in standard police operating procedures to accommodate the complexities of trauma. Historically, the lack of understanding regarding trauma responses has led to the unjust treatment of victims, underscoring the importance of integrating trauma-informed practices into the justice system. By embracing these insights, law enforcement can improve the accuracy of investigations and the overall treatment of victims, fostering a more just and empathetic society.

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