KPD officers being schooled on how to handle interview with molested child

How do law enforcement and support groups handle the delicate interviewing process after a child has been physically or sexually abused?

A specialized interview training will take place Friday at the Kingman Police Department dealing with interviewing a child, specifically under the age of 6, according to Wendy Dutton, a state forensic interviewer working out of St.

Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix.

Mohave County law enforcement officers and case workers with the county's child protection services will be trained on how to elicit information from small children, she said.

"Forensic interviewing is a fact-finding interview," Dutton said.

"We help a child provide as much information as they can.

We want to avoid leading or suggestive questions.

Questions should be open-ended."

Training techniques include officers appearing warm and friendly to a child and be good listeners, not to intimidate a child.

Children provide less information if they feel they are interviewed by an stern, authoritarian figure, she said.

Ironically an officer wearing a police uniform is not a detriment to interviewing children.

In fact a uniform can be a plus, especially to boys, she said.

Dutton also encourages video taping a child only once instead of multiple interviews using an audio tape recorder or by taking written notes.

In the past, a child could be interviewed as many as seven or eight times by teachers, principals, law enforcement and attorneys and their testimony could change.

It can also sound as a child has been coached, she said.

"Multiple interviews is the most dramatic," Dutton said.

"Each interviewer has different interviewing styles."

Friday's training will focus on interviewing children who have been victimized by sex abuse or physical abuse.

The hardest to interview are pre-school children.

Dutton said she has interviewed children as young as 2 1/2 years old but generally children, more than 3 years old, can provide information.

"It's very different to interview a child," Sarah's House Director Rhonda Chastain said.

"Children under the age of 5 only retain their attention for about 20 minutes."

Interviewing victims now takes place at Sarah's House, a safe house for domestic abuse, sexual abuse and child abuse victims.

Sarah's House, located next door to KPD, opened in January and has already interviewed about 100 children and 500 adult victims in the Kingman area, Chastain said.

At Sarah's House, two rooms, equipped with hidden cameras, have been set aside for interviewing victims, one for children and one for adults.

"I don't like to have parents watch the interviews," Chastain said.

"It may be too emotional for them."

Another room includes video tape monitors where law enforcement officers can watch the interviews.

Still another room, adorned with stuffed animals, is set aside for medical exams, she said.

"This is a better environment to interview children than in a police station," Chastain said.

"It's a lot more victim friendly."

Medical exams used to take place at Kingman Regional Medical Center or at a local medical clinic.

About eight nurses will be trained and on duty, 24 hours a day, at Sarah's House by December, Chastain said.

Staff at Sarah's House also work with survivors of people killed in accidents, victims of crime, or they can also act as victim's advocates in court, she said.