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MUN teaches PEACE to RNC

The Faculty of Science is partnering with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) to introduce an alternative method for interviewing witnesses and suspects to crime. Dr. Brent Snook, an associate professor in the department of Psychology, has recently offered a train-the-trainer program to six senior police officers within the agency.

The method is called PEACE, representing the different stages of the interviewing process: planning and preparation, engage and explain, account, closure, and evaluation. While this method has been popular in Britain since 1993, and has been recently implemented in New Zealand, this is the first time the method has being introduced anywhere in North America.

“It’s an inquisitorial versus accusatorial model,” explained Dr. Snook. “It’s almost a complete opposite approach from what they had been using. But these countries are finding they’re having the same results, and being as effective, yet they’re being much more polite and professional.”

Dr. Snook first learned about the new interviewing method when he was completing his doctorate in Liverpool in the late ‘90s. Since coming to MUN he has continued to build his relationship with the RNC, and has recently worked with his students and Inspector John House to do research on the agency’s interviewing styles.

“When we looked at witness interviews, we saw that while they are doing very good interviews, we could identify key areas for improvement,” said Dr. Snook. “Because I was familiar with the PEACE model, I informed them about the more systematic method and how to go about training officers on how to conduct professional interviews.”

The close ties between Dr. Snook and the RNC encouraged him to make a presentation regarding the alternative interviewing method to the agency’s executives. It was met with great interest and overwhelming support.

The PEACE method is grounded in science, according to Dr. Snook. One of the key aspects is the cognitive interview, which is based on decades of memory research. In particular, the cognitive interview has been shown to be an effective memory enhancing technique. The method can be used be used by many different disciplines such as medicine, law, social work, and nursing.

“It’s all about the search through memory and using certain retrieval cues to help people with their memory and retrieve the information that’s important for investigations,” he said. “I think that was an attractive component for the RNC, that the model was grounded in science. There’s a lot of empirical research that supports the different aspects of PEACE.”

The model of interrogation currently being used in North America, known as the Reid Technique, has assumptions that are not based in science, according to the professor.

“For example, believing I can judge whether or not you are telling the truth,” he said. “It’s actually very difficult to detect deception in people. The accuracy is approximately 50 per cent, the same result you’d get if you flipped a coin. There’s also an underlying assumption that if someone is in an interview they’re guilty.

“To me the most fascinating thing about these developments is that our local police have said we’re going to make this change and pursue this method on our own accord,” he added. “This is a very progressive approach to policing in the 21st century. They have not waited for case law to enforce changes in their interviewing practices and they didn’t need to make a change, but wanted to do it anyway.”

Since completing the training program with the RNC, Dr. Snook has been approached by a number of police agencies across the country wanting the same training. The next stage in the MUN-RNC collaboration is for the six newly trained senior officers, Const. Regina Baggs, Sgt. Paula Walsh, Const. Roy Normore, Const. Robert Howard, Const. Todd Barron and Const. Rodney Priddle, to begin the process of training the other 350 officers within the force.

“It’s all about the public interest,” he said. “We can all sit here and do our research in isolation, but it’s important that research get passed on in a practical sense and also to make sure the public knows the police and the university are collaborating to improve society, to try and do things better.”