Social Question

josie's avatar

What is the difference between a "suspect" and a "person of interest".

Asked by josie (28422points) August 12th, 2010

Once upon a time, when the cops had a suspect in a crime, the news said that the cops had a suspect. Now, often enough, when the cops have a suspect, the news calls the suspect “a person of interest”.
Most cops I know call them suspects.
Obviously, “person of interest” sounds sort of, well, interesting, like a movie star or a professional athlete. Suspect sounds like, well, somebody suspected of committing a crime.
Which is exactly what they are!
So why the slightly Orwellian reworking of the description by the information media? Why are they trying to make me imagine that a suspect really is not a suspect?

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8 Answers

aprilsimnel's avatar

“Person of interest” is a British police term that’s been adapted in some parts of the US. “Suspect” has such a presumption of guilt that it’s no longer useful. After all, just because a person is a suspect doesn’t mean that they did it! Eventually, though, the same thing will happen to “person of interest”, too, as it gets tied to meaning “that’s the ruddy bastard we think wot did it!”, so not to worry.

Orwell never reckoned on the euphemism treadmill, did he?

marinelife's avatar

Person of interest can be less than a suspect. A person of interest can be someone who has information about the crime or who the police want to talk to.

Trillian's avatar

I’ll bet it has something to do wih legalities. You can’t call someone a suspect because they’ll sue. Also, what @aprilsimnel an @marinelife said.

wilhel1812's avatar

If you are a suspect, someone suspects you for being involved in the crime. If you are a person of interest you might have seen something, know someone that’s involved or generally just have information related to the crime.

Obviously a suspect is a person of interest, but a person of interest can be a lot of things

tedd's avatar

Being a “suspect” has developed a stigma, and people are often ostracized for being a suspect in a crime (even if it turns out they are completely innocent). The “person of interest” term came into play imo to avoid that stigma… but they are still that usually, suspects. (though the term is often used to describe witnesses or people with information who police do not suspect as the criminal at all)

perspicacious's avatar

Nothing. They are one and the same.

DominicX's avatar

“Suspect” is a stronger term; it refers to someone the police suspect of having committed the crime. A “person of interest” is just someone who sparks their interest for any kind of reason. They might have behaved strangely, they might have seen something, they might have information, etc. A “person of interest” can become a suspect after further investigation, of course.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Of course!

The thing to watch out for is the usage in media. Some Nancy Grace-type will say “a person of interest” while raising an eyebrow editorially at the camera, and there goes another useful phrase shot to hell.

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