New Jersey educators are getting lessons in police interrogation techniques and how to tell if someone is lying – even if they are only in elementary school – as the stakes have increased in the crackdown on bullying.
More than 500 teachers, counselors and administrators completed training sessions this spring with state and outside experts -- including a N.J. State Police sergeant - that included detailed investigation and “interview” techniques. (One suggestion: never use the word “interrogation.”)
Lengthy PowerPoint presentations offered tips on how to talk with students of all ages and how to interpret their words and body language. There was also step-by-step guidance on how to interpret the state’s new bullying law and what classifies a fight between two kids as a potential bullying incident.
One of the more intriguing presentations included a listed indicators that a child might be hiding something:
Starting to speak in third person
Telling you they have done things … wrong in the past
Repeating your question
The training was conducted by the state Department of Education and LEGAL ONE, a partnership of state education and law groups that teaches school employees about important education law and policies that affect their jobs.
Six regional sessions have been held throughout the state, including one specifically for Jersey City schools, and more are planned for late summer and fall. Most of the participants have been personnel chosen to be the anti-bullying “specialist” at their school -- typically a guidance counselor or student counselor who are charged with investigating alleged incidents under the new law.
There is no shortage of claims to investigate, with more than 35,000 incidents reported in 2011-12 during the first year of the law, almost half of them confirmed.
“The whole idea is that for those charged with this role to be as comfortable as possible with the procedures under the law, and the various ways to get to the bottom of an incident,” said David Nash, coordinator for LEGAL ONE and director of legal education for the Foundation for Educational Administration.
“When they took their jobs, this is not something they thought they’d be doing; it’s not a natural process to go through,” he said. “But there are certain investigative techniques that are useful that a counselor or even an administrator may never have learned.”
The daylong session had three parts, starting with an overview of the law and the different responsibilities of each individual. The step-by-step guide covers more than a dozen steps in any one investigation.
There is also a video simulation of an investigation, offering a chance to see both the “incident” and the investigation process in action.
In between there was a presentation by State Police Sgt. Adam Drew, titled “The Investigation.”
Drew offered many tips, ranging from the importance of planning interviews, including the order in which they are conducted, to focusing on asking “open questions” that discourage just a yes or no answer.
Typically individuals – including parents -- should be interviewed alone, he advised.
“Do not be intimidated by a parent,” the trooper’s presentation reads, adding that sometimes the parents themselves could be bullying offenders.
The interview of a young student will be very different from that of an older one, Drew’s presentation continues, and witnesses are often asked one set of questions while the accused is asked another. The interview of the accused, the state trooper said, will obviously be very different from that of the possible victim.
“Keep in mind the target has been through a bad experience,” said one slide about the victim interview. “The health and personal safety of victim must be the primary concern . . . Might consider postponing the interview.”
The presentation delves into handling of evidence and the importance of writing down everything. “If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen,” the presentation said.
And it lays out the different findings on body language and eye movement in trying to determine a person’s truthfulness.
Nash, of LEGAL ONE, said it can all sound very heavy, but the reception has so far been positive. In cases that can and sometimes do go to court, the importance of knowing proper procedures is important.
“The bottom line is somebody needs to investigate, and good or bad, we have a law to follow,” Nash said. “We just want the best process possible to getting at the truth.”