Investigative tactics carry weight on the scales of justice: MRU prof
Janne Holmgren, PhD, pens premier Canadian textbook on interviewing and interrogation
Associate professor of Justice Studies Janne Holmgren smiles politely when asked — for the gazillionth time — about Netflix’s Making a Murderer.
The hit documentary series is a popular topic in Holmgren’s line of work.
“We talk about it in my classes all the time,” says Holmgren, PhD. “It’s easy for my students to see how witnesses and suspects can be controlled by people in power.”
Holmgren is the author of the new textbook, Interviewing and Interrogation: A Canadian Critical and Practical Perspective. The 19-year Mount Royal University professor has taught investigative techniques to students now working at all levels of law enforcement and consulted with defense lawyers on high-profile cases involving DNA evidence.
However, it’s not just bio samples being put under the microscope these days. Criminal investigations are facing increased scrutiny from armchair detectives and professional justice advocates alike.
“The whole concept of wrongful convictions is something we’re taking more seriously now than we ever have,” says Holmgren, who led Mount Royal’s efforts to recognize International Wrongful Conviction Day in early October. “We’re looking at what’s wrong in the system.
“And, certainly, forensic interviewing is one element. It’s a hard skill to learn.”
In an effort help students develop vital policing skills, Holmgren recently authored the first textbook of its kind in Canada, Interviewing and Interrogation. The 10-chapter paperback aims to teach students how to ask the highly detailed questions essential in information-seeking careers such as law, corrections and border security. It also teaches them to avoid leading or accusatory language.
This semester, three cohorts of Justice Studies students are using the first edition of the textbook for the first time.
Interviewing and Interrogation fills a gap in justice studies education, according to Holmgren, as much of the existing material is expensive and based on either American case law or psychological counselling.
Her book makes specific references to the Criminal Code, Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Youth Criminal Justice Act. It also features high-profile Canadian examples, such as the Lac-Megantic rail disaster of 2013 and is supported by materials provided by the Calgary Police Service and Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service.
Insp. Steve Burton, a veteran officer and forensic psychologist, was one of the authorities consulted in the creation of Holmgren’s textbook. Burton shared his insights into working with Indigenous communities that place a high value on personal relationships and respectful interactions. Working in a smaller, tight-knit community requires a complementary skill set to what’s needed in Big City law enforcement, according to the expert.
“It’s a culture that’s based in respect,” says Burton, a current member of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service. “We find better relationships can be developed by honouring the principle that suspects are community members.”
While police questioning is sometimes viewed as a “lost art form,” he’s optimistic that better education and training can drive a resurgence within the justice studies industry. There’s no question it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
“Being a good interviewer makes you one of the top cops within an organization,” says Burton, who has taught courses at Mount Royal. “You’re able to think two steps ahead, so you can control the flow of the interview.
“It comes from practice and knowledge, as well as an element of natural skill.”
Holmgren’s expertise and experience has caught the eye of Canada’s national police force. She’s been invited to attend an RCMP workshop on the Mountie’s new, “Phased Interview Model for Suspects.” The course is offered to all police departments.
Holmgren describes the experience as a great honour, adding she hopes to include information from the workshop into the second edition of the book.
“It’s really a wonderful collaboration,” she says. “Together, we can make the book more useful as recruit material.”
Oct. 21, 2016 — Bryan Weismiller