FBI agent, DA address police academyParticipants in the Citizen Police Academy were treated to an inside look at criminal interrogation, courtesy of a retired FBI agent with an impressive record.
Participants in the Citizen Police Academy were treated to an inside look at criminal interrogation, courtesy of a retired FBI agent with an impressive record.
Former Special Agent Dan Craft lives in the Hudson area but still does consulting work for some of “those alphabet organizations” as well as Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies throughout the country. He also teaches in the criminal justice program at Metropolitan State University.
Craft grew up on the east side of St. Paul and during his more than 30 years with the FBI, he worked in violent crimes investigation, as a crisis negotiator and as a profiler. His assignments included New York City, Alabama and Milwaukee, where he served for 22 years. Although he worked primarily on gang shootings in Milwaukee, his most infamous case was that of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, one he describes as among the most bizarre of his long career.
Craft used another case, however, to explain to his audience the technique he has developed for interrogation that has earned him a reputation as one of the best at what he does.
Back in 1999, Craft was called by the sheriff of Goodhue County in Minnesota to help with the then four-year-old case of Jessica Swanson, a little girl from Cannon Falls who disappeared from her home and was never found. Police were certain that the man responsible for the girl’s 1995 disappearance was likely her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Dale Jenson.
But despite being questioned some 25 times over the four years, Jenson always maintained he was innocent and did not know where the girl was.
According to Craft, Jenson had even convinced the media, including veteran television newsman Don Shelby, that he was innocent. But local investigators were certain Jenson knew what had happened to the girl and called Craft in to give it one more shot.
Two hours after his interrogation began, Jenson confessed to Craft that he had struck the child accidentally, killing her, and agreed to lead authorities to where her body was buried.
Using an approach he has developed over the years, Craft said he likes to interview a suspect one-on-one and doesn’t like to come on too strong. He sits close to a suspect with no barriers between them. He also uses touch and body language to both communicate and disarm the suspect.
His theory of interrogation is based on “getting somebody to do what they don’t want to do.” He says he sees his job as a type of salesman “whose product is the truth.” He approached Jenson like he does most suspects by asking them to listen rather than speak. He told Jenson he would rather have him say nothing than lie to him, which he said put him in a difficult position.
Craft says years of experience have taught him a lot about the criminal mind, and he finds that compassion, or at least the appearance of it, can be very useful. “I come on as a friend because who do we confide in? You don’t like to a friend … Let them feel good about themselves.”
This can be done by minimizing what a suspect has done (it’s not that bad, not that much money), rationalizing the act (it was a misunderstanding, the person was driven to do it), or projecting (it wouldn’t have happened if not for something else).
In the case of Jenson, Craft used another technique by going over all the other possible explanations for what happened to Jessica and ruling them out with Jenson one by one.
“By getting him to eliminate everyone else, we came to the conclusion together that there was no other possibility but him … I reached out my hands and said, ‘Dale, you are a drowning man and I’m here to throw you a life line.’ And he took it.”
The other featured speaker of the evening was St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson. A prosecutor for 25 years, Johnson said his job is simple.
“It is my job along with the six other lawyers who work for me to decide whether or not to charge someone with an offense.”
Johnson said his office has three criteria when evaluating cases that are referred to them by county law enforcement agencies including:
Johnson explained that his office does have discretion, especially when it comes to the third criteria. He cited the case of 17-year-old, an adult by Wisconsin criminal law, but who depending on the offense and previous record should not be charged and sent into the adult prison system.
Johnson said while some victims and police officers may not agree with the criteria, experience has taught him that it is never a good idea to use the justice system “to make a point. That always backfires.”
Last year, his office handled 800 felony cases, 2,000 misdemeanors and more than 7,000 traffic cases. In addition, his office coordinates the countywide Child Fatality Review Team that looks at the death of every child in the county to confirm cause and identify any issues the death raises that might protect other children.
His office is also responsible for the Victim/Witness Assistance Program as well as being involved in several other initiatives addressing issues like methamphetamine use and domestic violence.
Johnson said he loves his job and regularly tells the staff he works with that “we have a great job — we get to do the right thing for a living.”
The Citizen Police Academy is the first of its kind offered by the HPD and runs for eight weeks. Upcoming classes will address crime scene investigations and the use of deadly force.
Police Chief Marty Jensen said he expects that members of the public will be able to participate in another Citizen Police Academy in the fall (for a nominal fee). For more information, contact the HPD at (715) 386-4771.