Polygraph technology changes the industry of deception detection. Innovators like John Larson and Leonard Keeler focused on creating the instruments to form the foundation of today’s software-driven devices. While machines form the basis of the technology, the questioning process sparks the fight-or-flight response implicating the examinee of their deception.

No man has made a bigger impact on the field of polygraph questioning and interrogation than John E. Reid. “The Reid Technique” is the benchmark gold standard of polygraph questioning practices. While it’s not as widespread as it was a few decades ago, Reid gets the credit for revolutionizing this area of polygraph science.

John E. Reid had a massive contribution to the polygraph industry, and we’ll discuss his career and rise to the top of his field in this post.


The Evolution of Polygraph Technology

The era of modern polygraph technology started with John Larson and Leonard Keeler in the 1920s. The duo was responsible for inventing the world’s first polygraph device, changing the field of deception detection forever.

Keeler took the mantle from Larson, creating several innovations to Larson’s device to form the “Keeler Polygraph.” Keeler was the first person to patent a polygraph device. Over the next century, we saw the progression of the Keeler polygraph through several models, ending in the “Pacesetter Series.”

However, it was John E. Reid who changed the interrogation process of polygraphy, dramatically improving conviction rates for law enforcement.


Understanding the Contributions of John E. Reid

“The Reid Technique” is an interrogation method developed by John E. Reid in the United States during the 1950s. Reid was a trained and qualified psychologist, putting his skills to work in the field of criminology.

During his career as a Chicago police officer, Reid took an interest in polygraphy, thanks to his training as a psychologist. He started conducting polygraph exams on criminal suspects in Chicago, becoming an expert in using the device in criminal cases.

He developed the Reid Technique to create a high-stress environment for the examinee, placing them on edge by activating the “fight-or-flight” response. His technique involved pressuring the examinee, followed by empathizing with them and offering an understanding of their situation.

Thus, Reid would send the examinee on an emotional rollercoaster, leading them through a carefully designed interrogation technique ending in the suspect confessing to their crimes. The method was amazingly successful in criminal interrogations, evidenced by his track record of success with using the method in polygraph exams.

News of the success of The Reid Technique spread through law enforcement operations across America. By the 1960s, it was the go-to interrogation method used by police departments in all states nationwide.


The “Reid Technique” of Interrogation and Polygraph Examination

Since its development in the 1950s, the Reid Technique has been responsible for putting thousands of criminals behind bars. The proponents of Reid’s questioning method state it provides excellent results in extracting confessions from otherwise unwilling criminal suspects.

Those critics of The Reid Technique state it’s responsible for coercing false confessions from ignorant suspects. They state the flawed technique is manipulative, resulting in false confessions, especially among the mentally challenged and youth offenders.

There’s also criticism of the Reid Techniques’ efficacy in drawing confessions from clever criminals. Instead of playing along with the interrogation, the questioning methodology causes them to refuse to cooperate with the lie detector test.

The formula for the Reid Technique involves three phases. It starts with a fact analysis by the examiner, leading to a behavior analysis interview. The second phase consists of using a non-accusatory discussion designed to draw behavioral and investigative information. The technique ends in the nine steps of interrogation.

According to Reid’s guidelines for initiating the process, the suspect must only be interrogated when information drawn from the first two steps of the process reveals the suspect is involved with the crime and may be hiding something.

The Reid technique views an interrogation as an accusatory process. The examiner starts by telling the suspect that the investigation into their alleged crime indicates they aren’t involved. Unlike other polygraphy questioning tactics, the Reid Technique’s initial phase takes a monologue rather than a question-and-answer format.

During the first two phases of the Reid Technique, the examiner acts with an understanding demeanor, exercising patience without being derogatory towards the suspect. This phase of the process aims to get the suspect to drop their guard and become comfortable with talking around the examiner. As a result, they become more prone to telling the truth in the later stages of the method.

The examiner accomplishes this by presenting the suspect with other scenarios that justify their behavior. These psychological constructs give the suspect false hope that they can escape being implicated in the crime. For instance, the examiner might ask, “Did you plan to do this, or was it a moment of passion that caused you to act irrationally?”

This tactic is known as an “alternative question” based on a tacit admission of guilt. Critics of The Reid Technique suggest this tactic is hazardous to the outcome of the investigation, as its subject to confirmation bias by the investigating authority, reinforcing inaccurate assumptions regarding the case and the suspect’s behavior. As a result, the bias may narrow the scope and impact of the investigation.


The Nine Steps of Interrogation in the Reid Technique

When the examiner feels the suspect is potentially involved in the crime, they move from the second phase to the third. This stage of The Reid Technique involves interrogating the suspect using a 9-step process, ending with the suspect confessing to the crime.


Step #1 – “Positive Confrontation”

The examiner advises the suspect that the evidence suggests they are the prime suspect in the case. The examiner offers the suspect the chance to explain their involvement in the crime and why it occurred.


Step #2 – “Developing a Theme”

The examiner attempts to move the blame from the suspect to another party or circumstance, prompting the suspect to commit the crime. This action aims to develop themes involving reasons justifying why the suspect committed the crime.


Step #3 – “Handling the Suspects Denial”

The examiner attempts to minimize the suspect’s denial of their involvement in the crime.


Step #4 – “Overcoming the Suspects Objections”

At this stage of the process, it’s common for the suspect to offer a reason why they could not be responsible for committing the crime. The examiner attempts to coerce the suspect into admitting that this is reason to believe they did, in fact, commit the crime.


Step #5 – “Procuring the Suspect’s Attention”

The examiner reinforces their sincerity to ensure the suspect remains receptive to suggestions.


Step #6 – “Handling Passive Moods”

At this stage, it’s common for the suspect to become quiet and still listen to what the examiner says. The examiner starts to offer alternative scenarios. If the suspect cries, the examiner infers this is a sign of guilt that they committed the crime.


Step #7 – “Presenting Alternative Questions”

The examiner presents two alternative scenarios for the events surrounding the crime, with one being less socially acceptable than the other. The examiner asks the suspect to choose one of the two scenarios, knowing that if the suspect picks either one, they are guilty of committing the crime.


Step #8 – “Developing Admission Details”

The examiner leads the suspect to repeat their admission of guilt in front of a witness. They develop information corroborating the validity of the suspect’s confession.


Step #9 – “Conversion of Oral Confessions to Recorded or Written Documents”

The examiner documents the confession via audio, video, or written statement.


The Reid Technique is incredibly powerful and effective at getting suspects to confess to crimes. The Reid Institute states their examiners have the following stats for using the method during interrogation proceedings.

  • 95% of examiners in a survey of 2,000 students report using The Reid Technique helped them improve confession rates with suspects.
  • Most respondents state an increase in confession rates by as much as 25%. Some say they experienced an increase of 50%.
  • 97% report using The Reid Technique increased case resolution rates.
  • 100% of respondents report the benefits received from attending The Reid Technique program were worth the investment to participate in the course.


The “Reid Technique” – Darryl Parker & Controversy

While The Reid Technique is considered highly effective, it’s not without controversy. A case involving Darryl Parker in 1955 resulted in a confession. Parker withdrew his statement the following day, stating the examiner pressured him into admitting guilt, even though he was innocent.

Parker was accused of killing his wife, Nancy, in her bedroom. Reid conducted a polygraph exam on Parker, using his interrogation method, resulting in a confession from Parker that he was responsible for killing his wife.

Despite Parker recanting his admission of guilt, a jury found him guilty of murder, sentencing him to imprisonment for life. However, another man confessed to the crime after Parker was thrown in jail, and an investigation showed him the true perpetrator of the crime.

After learning of the incident, Parker was released from prison, suing the state for $500,000 in compensation due to wrongful conviction for the crime. Despite Reid being wrong in this instance, the case actually bolstered his industry image, earning his Technique more acclaim from law enforcement operations.


Founding the Reid Institute

Reid went on to found “The Reid Institute” in 1999. The purpose of the institute was to train polygraph examiners in his methods. The institute hired employees, took on clients, and set about developing new interrogation methods.

Today, The Reid Institute trains more polygraph examiners and interrogators than any other company worldwide. Some organizations using training programs from The Reid Institute include the military, CIA, FBI, and the Secret Service. The company also has clients in law enforcement and private security industries.

The Reid Institute trains examiners in every aspect of effective interrogations, from how to set up an exam room to how to interrogate suspects and achieve results. According to the Reid Institute, Examiners trained in The Reid Technique can coerce a confession from a guilty suspect 80% of the time.

So, it’s not surprising that The Reid Technique is the most popular interrogation method in these industries, considering the results it provides examiners in their polygraph exams.


Is The Reid Technique Still in Use?

The United States Courts viewed the Reid Technique as the leading interrogation method in the world for law enforcement applications and used in the private sector. In 1994, the United States Supreme Court referenced The Reid Institutes training manual during its decision in the case of Stansbury v. California.

The 2004 case of Missouri v. Seibert, held in the United State Supreme Court, referenced The Reid Institute and its training manual “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions,” as effective examples of resources offering law enforcement agencies proper training and guidance on presenting suspects with their Miranda advisement of rights.

However, thoughts on the Reid Technique and its pressure-related method of questioning were brought to light in the early 2010s. Many countries and organizations started to back away from using The Reid Technique as their go-to interrogation method in criminal cases, replacing it with softer systems.

For instance, many European countries prohibit the use of interrogation methods, such as The Reid Technique, where law enforcement officers lie to suspects about the evidence relating to their case against them due to the risk of deriving false confessions resulting in wrongful convictions, particularly with juvenile cases.

For instance, §136a of the German Strafprozessordnung, or code of criminal procedure, bans the use of intimidation and deception tactics during interrogations. The Reid Technique also conflicts with German law enforcement’s obligation to inform the suspect of their right to remain silent.

In 2012, Canadian provincial court judge, Mike Dinkel, ruled that The Reid Technique, when stripped to its bare essentials, is a confrontational, guilt-presumptive, psychologically manipulative questioning procedure with the purpose of extracting a confession.

Despite its unfavorable position in Europe and Canada, the FBI admitted to using the technique in December 2013, in an unredacted copy of a classified FBI interrogation manual discovered in the Library of Congress, on view for the public to see.

The manual confirmed the assumptions of the American Civil Liberties Union that FBI agents use the Reid technique in their interrogations.