Cliff Porter can spot a lie.
An El Paso County Sheriff's Office detective, he has a 97 percent success rate in yielding a confession through interrogation. Off-duty, he travels the world teaching religious leaders, politicians, corporate workers, cops — and recently, regular folks — how to use personality typology, interview skills and subconscious communication to improve their lives.
Porter, 39, says the skills he's developed in local law enforcement turn out to be helpful in radically different applications. He recently gave a presentation at a United Nations conference to promote understanding among world religions. Last spring, he taught his first open-to-the-public class at the Colorado Springs Masonic Center.
Teaching cop stuff to regular people is sort of a radical notion, he says, but understanding nonverbal cues can do more than get murderers to confess. After using the techniques personally, he says, he noticed that, "my marriage was stronger, my friendships were stronger, and my work went easier."
"I got to thinking, 'Who could benefit from this?' And the answer was, anyone who communicates with other human beings."
Porter, who has an associate degree in criminology, joined the sheriff's department in 1997 and made detective in 2001.
El Paso County Law Enforcement Bureau Chief Joe Breister, one of Porter's longtime bosses, says Porter was always a natural in interrogations. Porter, he says, sees interrogations "as a duel." And he usually wins.
But being good and understanding why you're good are two different things, Porter says. And it took him a while — and a chance meeting — to figure out the latter.
Back in 2002, Porter was kicked out of his Lutheran church for being a Freemason. The rejection awakened a curiosity, and Porter began taking online and mail-in courses on religion and ethics. Then, in 2003, he took a class with Dr. Steve Rhoads, a former police chief with a Ph.D. in behavioral science, who is known for classes on interviews and interrogation.
Rhoads was so impressed with Porter that he agreed to mentor him, and a partnership was born.
"Over the years, I've tried to bring a number of people on board," says the 57-year-old Rhoads, who retired from Illinois to Colorado Springs. "... I'm always looking for somebody who would be a good teacher, but also a good police officer."
Breister, by the way, says Rhoads is revered among cops.
"Steve has a long history, a long reputation of somebody who's very proficient in the art of interview and interrogations," Breister says, "so if he brought Cliff on, that speaks volumes."
Rhoads and Porter teach a variety of courses, from "Detecting Deception" to "Detecting Danger" to classes intended to help salespeople. The courses are based on a mash of things Rhoads learned over the years, though Porter adds touches to his own courses. (Find out more about the classes at detectingdeception.com. A public class planned for November will cost $99.)
As for Porter's idea — that cop tactics can help regular people — Breister says it makes sense to him.
"It's worked well for me negotiating the price of a car, buying a home, any kind of dealings you want to have in person," he says. "You can pretty much tell when somebody's being honest with you."