Virtual interrogation software

Practicing interrogation skills is important but also often challenging for law enforcement officers, especially with time and budget constraints.

Practicing interrogation skills is important but also often challenging for law enforcement officers, especially with time and budget constraints. And because interrogation and interviewing is best done in a face-to-face setting with a real, live person, training issues can occur depending on the trainer and the trainee's level of experience.

Imagine conducting an interview without a real live person in the room, but with a simulated suspect on a personal computer.

Traditional role-playing scenarios are now becoming a thing of the past, thanks to sophisticated software technology allowing officers to train and practice interviewing techniques at their leisure.

It sounds like something far-fetched, almost out of a sci-fi movie, but SIMmersion's simulated people technology is very real, and is used by law enforcement agencies worldwide to help train professionals how to recognize the signs of deception, and to be a better interviewer on the job.

SIMulated reality

While at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Dale Olsen, Ph.D. began work on the first simulated person with the goal of training new FBI agents to detect deception during an investigative interview. This endeavor began in 1997, and by 1998 Dr. Olsen delivered the breakthrough training to his first customer, the FBI.

"We showed that we are able to mirror realistic situations to give trainees a chance to develop critical investigative skills. Other government agencies quickly followed the FBI lead and commissioned new simulations," Olsen says. In 2002, Dr. Olsen started up SIMmersion LLC, so that he could bring this highly effective experiential training to more people.

Using video and DVD capabilities, SIMmersion has created more than 20 life-like simulations of people in realistic settings for government sponsors including all branches of the military, Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration, the intelligence community, and the National Institutes of Health. These simulations offer alternative ways of learning and strengthening various skills, including detection of deception, courtroom testimony, informant management, recruiting, cultural sensitivity, medical diagnosis, drug counseling and suicide intervention.

These "simulated" characters have realistic emotions, and a "simulated" brain that uses real-time interaction and logic to reflect the way people actually speak and respond to one another in real situations. Each character has a built-in "memory" that allows the simulated person to respond based on the user's history of statements in realistic and logically consistent ways.

For example, at the beginning of a conversation, the interviewer doesn't know if the character "Mike Simmen" is guilty or innocent.

"What we're giving the user is practice in identifying the signs of deception," Olsen says. Decisions must be made on how the interview should proceed based on the observed character's behavioral patterns.

If you are able to "warm up" to Mike, he will relax and become more talkative and friendly. He will provide more useful information including important verbal and non-verbal clues that are often signs of deception. If you fail to break through his initial concerns about talking with you, he may become hostile and uncooperative and you will not be able to determine if he is guilty or innocent.

Interrogating officers need to know if their suspect is telling the truth, and SIMmersion simulations will help them to hone in on clues to indicate if they are telling the truth or being deceptive.

A new way of training

Garland Phillips knows how intense the training can be for FBI agent recruits: he was the former unit chief for the information resources and learning unit at the FBI Academy. Prior to his retirement 5 years ago, part of his job responsibilities included training program evaluation and analysis.

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