National Association of Rescue Divers

Interviewing Witnesses

No operation is successful without information. Interviewing witnesses is the only way to get that information. It should have top priority upon reaching the scene. Every available witness should be interviewed. Some will be emotional such as family members, some may be children, and as in many recreational areas some might be intoxicated. All have there say and all should be talked to. Obtain the information first hand. This means having the witness take you to where he saw whatever it is he saw. Do not rely on second hand information. That is where you are approached by a well meaning person who say he heard from ''that person over there'', that the victim went down here. A more accurate second hand information source is fire, police, and EMS personnel. They are all highly trained in gathering and disseminating information. Any thing they give will be accurate enough to determine rescue verses recovery. However, when time allows, interview the witnesses yourself. First hand information still outweighs second hand, regardless of the source. A lot of times witnesses forget something, and by going back valuable extra information may be obtained.

Family members will be under a great deal of stress and tact must be used. It is best to get them in the command post away from bystanders and any press, before interviewing. It is preferable to interview family and friends last. This allows time for them to regain composure. Keep the family together. The team member at the CP should keep the family assessed as to the progress of the operation. Be honest about the progress, do not lie to make them feel better.

Bystanders should be interviewed separate from one another. This way their individual accounts can be recorded. When gathering them ask them not to talk about what they know. Remember that some may have guilt feelings because they did not do anything. Children make good reliable witnesses. They are often not swayed by what they saw. Intoxicated individuals should not be ruled out just because of their state. They might be the only witnesses available. Remember to have the witnesses take you to the exact location they where standing at the time of the accident. If they where in a boat, take them back to the location in a boat to get their story. Do not have them give distance estimates, most people cannot. Have them reference objects in relation to the site. One way to do this is by having a rescue diver swim on the surface to the area under the witnesses directions. Never ask leading questions or coach witnesses.

When no witnesses are available, physical evidence can some times give clues. Damage to objects, floating debris, tire marks, clothing on shore, are all examples of physical evidence.

Be sure to get all information as to where a witness can be contacted before allowing them to leave. Get a legal I.D. not their word. This can be done by fire, or police personnel not involved with the actual search.

     

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