Consultant for writers on crime, police, & court procedures.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


An asset for any police officer is the ability to know when someone is lying.  Sometimes lies can be revealed when a suspect contradicts himself or provides implausible explanations.  But one of the best ways to detect lies are nonverbal cues that reveal the stress accompanying deception.  Many aspects of our bodily functions and other physical behaviors are beyond our control.  We cannot keep out bodies from perspiring or slow down our pulse rate during physical exertion or moments of stress.  It is because most suspects cannot control these actions that these cues are such effective indicators of deception.
The physical behavioral indicators described below are just some of many.  They are highly effective in helping officers detect criminal activity and protect themselves from danger.  They go beyond the simple nervousness one might experience in a 'normal' encounter with an officer, such as a traffic violation.

NO-LOOK MANEUVER:  This signal occurs before the encounter ever takes place.  At an intersection, for example, a motorist absolutely refuses to look towards the officer.  An offender who has something to hide will resort to exaggerated effort to avoid direct eye contact with a police officer in a chance encounter.
RESTLESSNESS:  A high level of stress often causes a person to be very fidgety, shifting positions frequently, pacing, crossing and uncrossing arms.  A stressed person may also try to move away, attempting to increase their comfort zone in order to reduce the anxiety. 

FALSE FATIGUE:  Signs of fatigue may actually be efforts by the body to relieve stress.  Frequent yawning and sighing are good stress relievers in these circumstances. 

DRY MOUTH:  Swallowing repeatedly and licking lips are indicators of stress-induced dryness in the mouth and throat. 

SWEATING:  A person perspiring profusely, regardless of weather conditions, may be experiencing extreme stress.  Stress sweating is most notable on the brow and hands.  Of course, sweating may also indicate the person has been engaged in physical exertion--maybe playing basketball or running from the scene of a burglary.
FIDGETY HANDS:  A person’s hands often shake because of stress.  Trembling hands exhibited by a teenager or person who has never encountered the police may not be so unusual.  But pay close attention to those who wring or squeeze their hands.  A person under stress may:

       -put hands in pockets, especially after handing the officer something
       -use hand to cover mouth or eyes
       -constantly smooth hair, play with jewelry, pick lint off clothing, & other  nervous movement

“LEAKY” NECK:  The carotid arteries in the neck can become very pronounced as blood pressure and pulse rate increase under stress.  The skin will flush and the larynx may bob up and down.  Women tend to move their hands to their throat in high stress situations.  Men may rub the backs of their necks.
“POINTER” MOVEMENTS:  Some hunting dogs are trained to “point” at the target so the hunter can find it.  In a stress situation, some violators will do the same thing.  Ask if he has any drugs, a man says no but his hand immediately goes to the pocket containing the drugs.  Or he looks at the location in the car where his stash is hidden.

“SURRENDER” SIGNALS:  During a field interview, a suspect may turn his palms up in an uncertain or helpless gesture when he says he doesn’t know or can’t remember something.  He is unconsciously signaling that he “gives up” because you have caught him.

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