The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Miscommunication in UK police interviews and US police interrogations

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Abstract

This is the first comparative empirical study of miscommunication in US police interrogations and UK police interviews with suspects. The research was based on an extensive real-life data consisting of 100 transcripts. The main goal was to detect when and why miscommunication occurs in these two policing contexts, whether and how it gets resolved, and what the consequences of miscommunication may be. Miscommunication arises when speech participants draw opposing inferences from the same communicative exchange. Two main sources of miscommunication were identified: a) inferential ambiguity and b) linguistic complexity. The quantitative and qualitative analyses showed that, while the types of miscommunication are shared in the two jurisdictions, their frequencies and functions differ in some respects. Namely, deliberate miscommunication is more likely to be found in the US context while in the UK miscommunication is more likely to occur inadvertently. On the other hand, linguistic complexity gives rise to miscommunication more often in the UK than in US police communication. We discuss the results with respect to the two different approaches to questioning suspects in the two locales and translate our findings into practical applications for the training of law enforcement and language professionals worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-311
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Police and Criminal Psychology
Volume37
Issue number2
Early online date30 Mar 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Inferential ambiguity
  • Linguistic complexity
  • Miscommunication
  • Police interrogations
  • Police interviews

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