Police officers can’t formally interrogate everyone who may have information about a crime. Beyond the logistical problems and time demands of arresting and interrogating numerous individuals, constitutional regulations prohibit wanton arrests. To help gather information while investigating crimes, law enforcement officials perform field interviews, informal questioning of a suspect performed on the spot of contact that aren’t as structured as formal interrogations that follow the arrest of a suspect.
Reasons to Conduct Field Interview
Officers must have just cause or reasonable suspicion that an individual may be a suspect in a crime or have information about a crime before they conduct a field interview. Reasonable suspicion may be established if the person carries a suspicious object, behaves suspiciously, is in an area at an unusual time of day or place that may suggest criminal intent or bulges in the suspect’s clothing that suggest concealed weapons. Officers may also contact a person if the contact is in the general area of a recent crime law enforcement is investigating or if officers know the suspect has a prior criminal record.
Performing the Interview
If an officer has cause to conduct a field interview, the proceedings are more informal than a traditional interview. Officers may only question individuals about their identity, place of residence and other details immediately pertinent to the investigation or to allay the officer’s suspicions. If a plainclothes officer performs a field interview, he must identify himself as a police officer at the outset of the interview. Field interviews must be conducted as quickly as possible and individuals released to go about their business
Gleaning and Recording Information
Officers should record all encounters and field interviews in their logs. While investigating the incident or suspicious activity, officers should collect and record as much standard booking information – the identity and home address, a general description of the contact and other details – as part of questioning. Additional information about the incident should be recorded in the log as well, in case officers need to include it as part of a later investigation.
Constitutionality of Field Interviews
Because officers aren’t detaining or arresting subjects when they perform field interviews, they do not need to read suspects their Miranda rights prior to questioning. Interview subjects aren’t required to answer questions other than providing identification, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. If an interviewee asks if he’s free to go, officers must allow him to leave of his own accord. If an officer doesn’t allow a interview contact to freely leave, he must provide a reason for arresting the suspect and then follow procedures for formal arrests.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.