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Open Mindedness

Open mindedness is essential if the outcomes of investigations are not to be predetermined. Open mindedness consists in having the discovery of truth as the ultimate aim of an investigation, and in allowing evidence to settle the question of what is, or is not, the truth. Although open mindedness is an attitudinal state, it is one that has a number of behavioral manifestations in the investigative process, including the identification and exploration of all avenues of inquiry, the interviewing of all relevant witnesses, and the gathering of all relevant physical evidence (including that which is exculpatory). Auditing procedures can check the extent to which investigators’ behaviors manifest a lack of open mindedness.

Open mindedness is particularly important given the persistent problem of miscarriages of justice in the criminal justice system. These very often begin with errors in the police investigative process followed by an unwarranted focus on one suspect or group of suspects. The investigation then shifts from being an impartial evidence-gathering process into one of building a case against the suspect(s) now believed to be guilty (Dixon 1999; Ransley 2002; Miller and Blackler 2005: 121-130).

Open mindedness is tested when the interviewee is not simply a witness but a suspect. The context of such interviews is inherently stressful, if not coercive, for the interviewee. Such interviews may involve a conflict between interviewer and interviewee. Specifically, the interviewer might be concerned to discover the truth but (rightly or wrongly) believe the interviewee is actually attempting to prevent that outcome. Accordingly, the interviewer might make use of deceptive practices to “trick” the interviewee into making inconsistent statements or unintended disclosures, or might use methods of persuasion, for example appeals to self-interest, in light of the likely cooperation with police of the suspect’s alleged partner in crime (Inbau et al. 2004). Evidently, there are broad differences between practices in different police services. Many U.S. police agencies train their interviewers in the use of manipulative techniques with the prime object of obtaining confessions, whereas recent U.K. policy in this regard has been for police interviewers to search for the truth and maintain open mindedness (Skerker 2010). Moreover, it may be that manipulative techniques will be known to police under investigation and, therefore, will be less useful in internal investigations than might otherwise have been the case. John Baldwin conducted an extensive evaluation of the video-recording of interviews with suspects for the U.K.’s Association of Chief Police Officers and concluded, among other things, that:

The most accomplished interviewers do not enter the interview room with their minds made up, seeking single-mindedly a confession. They also recognise that confrontation and unpleasantness are likely to prove counter-productive. “You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” is how one experienced detective summed it up (Baldwin 1992: 13).

Audits of audiotapes and videotapes of interviews provide evidence of the quality of interviews, particularly in relation to open mindedness. Moreover, together with the use of CCTVs in custodial areas, audio-taping and video-taping provide evidence concerning respect for suspects’ rights (Dixon 2006; Cain 2002). Suspects’ complaints about interviews are a further indicator.

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