‘Law & Order’: How Real Life Interrogations Differ Than What’s Portrayed on Franchise

by Allison Hambrick
<> the "Law And Order: SVU" 300 Episodes Celebration Chelsea Piers on September 17, 2012 in New York City.

For many fans, Law & Order is the closest they get to a police station, so it can be hard to sort fact from fiction. In reality, much of what happens on the show goes against standard police procedures. This is especially true when it comes to interrogations.

While fans may be used to seeing Elliot Stabler grab a suspect by the collar, actual interrogations go a little bit differently. For starts, they last longer. Cops cannot physically assault suspects. They usually take notes. False confessions are at times more likely than real ones. Getting into the details can show how much creative license is taken in the world of Law & Order.

As for the duration of interrogations, the shows resolve things faster than in real life. Most law enforcement professionals utilize the Reid Technique. This methodology is based on a former Chicago officer named John Reid, who was known for getting confessions. His means were nonviolent, and his success was undeniable. Though the Reid Technique yields confessions, many are false.

The technique involves keeping the suspect in the interrogation room for hours. Officers hook the suspects up to polygraphs. They spout out conjectures as to why the suspect is guilty. The basic idea is to get the suspect anxious and to poke holes in their story. A key part of this is the Behavior Analysis Interview–in which the cop decides if they are lying.

If a subject is believed to be lying, the cop will leave the room for ten minutes. After their return, the interrogation begins. The cop establishes dominance through body language. If the suspect wants to see the case files, they decline. First, the cop will throw out accusations. Then, they follow with moral justifications to open the suspect up. The most important part is to read the subject’s responses and adjust accordingly.

Law & Order Fans Point Their Fingers at Stabler and Benson

While Law & Order uses some of these techniques, the emphasis is on the drama. After all, it is television. Even so, some fans noticed that some detectives bend the rules more than others.

Fans on Reddit called out Law &Order favorites Stabler and Benson. While they make an entertaining onscreen duo, their means of solving cases can be problematic. An entire thread called, “Olivia and Elliot Used to Get Away with So Much,” pokes fun at characters’ unorthodox actions.

“The way they didn’t even flinch when they got called into [Captain Cragen’s] office,” wrote one user. “It was like a second home for them.”

Another user responded: “my favorite was when Fin told them ‘dad is mad.'”

Additionally, a number of users pointed out the frequency with which Captain Cragen used a particular phrase when dealing with Benson and Stabler. The squad leader tells the detectives that they “just used [their] get-out-of-jail free” cards. One fan joked that he gives those out “instead of Christmas bonuses.”

Now that Benson is captain, she deals with rule breakers of her own. See how many “get-out-of-jail free” cards she gives out to her own detectives when Law & Order: SVU returns to NBC in January.