Each crime that is committed, while the crime itself may be individual in nature, can be investigated by breaking it down and using the same step by step process. An example of this process in action could be the string of daytime robberies which have been occurring in one area of City X. They can be investigated by using these steps as the basis for the creation of a strategic operational plan which can be followed by the investigating officers to ensure a complete and comprehensive analysis and determine if there is a pattern or if these robberies are even connected. The plan would look something like the following:
The first step in the investigation should be to identify and review each case and determine whether all pertinent information about each robbery was gathered (i.e. time of incident, description of perpetrator(s); such as height, weight, hair color, clothing, speech patterns. Any information that may be useful to the investigation should have been considered and recorded). The second step would be to conduct second interviews of each of the store owners and possible witnesses to each crime, if there are any new facts about the cases or to determine if there is any false reporting. Doing this can help us to determine the M.O. (Modus Operandi) of the perpetrator(s) (TheIACP.org, 2014).
Step three in the investigation is the assigning of the specialized investigative tasks to certain individuals. Such specialized tasks may include, but are not limited to, fingerprint identification, video recording analysis to clean up surveillance tapes in an effort to better identify possible suspects, and officers conversant in an ethnic language to better interact with any non-English speaking peoples who may be the victims or witnesses of the crimes. By making note of who the task was assigned to, when it was assigned and when it was completed, it will help to keep the investigation organized and easy to manage. There will not be people “tripping over each other”, so to speak.
Next, we will need to look at each piece of evidence that has been gathered at each individual scene and group them together by type of evidence (photo, video, interview, witness statement, physical evidence, etc.), date of incident, and proximity to other robberies, time of day, etc. The pieces of evidence that are similar to other crimes are placed into a group and those that are different would be placed into a separate group to be looked at later in the investigation. This fifth step in the investigation will aid in the determination of which robberies could be linked to the same perpetrator or perpetrators. Once all of the information has been identified, the facts from each robbery will need to be grouped together to create a “picture” of the event. This picture will attempt to lay out the sequence of events or timeline.
To further aid in creating the “picture”, the sixth step would entail securing any and all video surveillance tapes of the crime scene if they are available. From them, we could possibly obtain information that could possibly aid us by capturing images of the thieves in the process of the commission of the crime. If possible, it would also assist if tapes from surrounding businesses could be obtained as they may show the perpetrator(s) prior to or after the commission of the crime. In order for us to garner the tapes, requests must be made of each business which may have visual records. If a business refuses however, we would first need to get search warrants in order to obtain video records for the dates and times of the robberies.
With the tapes in hand, including any that required search warrants to obtain, we would then provide them to a team of specialized investigators would need to go over each tape and make note of any suspicious activity before and after the crime, as well as taking note of anything that may identify the thieves during the commission of the crime. An example of this could be something as simple as a tattoo made visible by a sleeve pulling back when a thief is reaching for the cash. When comparing information from different crimes, this can also aid in the determination of which individuals to take a closer look at. Are there certain people who appear in each of the areas at the time of the crimes? These would be the people to make a special note of and add to the list of suspects to question. Step Seven would be the interviewing of these suspects (HR.BLR.com, 2007).
Step Eight would be to create a timeline. A timeline of events will assist investigators in seeing patterns in the overall picture as well as helping to keep the information already gathered neatly organized as to time, date and sequence of the incident as well as give an easy to disseminate outline of events to use as the basis for the final report. All of this information is kept in a detailed record of all the suspects, witnesses, locations and businesses that are involved with the investigation.
For step nine, each person should be identified by linking their various identities to their picture or written description. Keeping a file which lists this information will mean that the investigator does not need to memorize each individuals’ details and connections as well as keeping the information close at hand to be easily referenced during the investigation. In other words, “build a cast of characters” (IACP.org, 2014). This will also facilitate the sharing of information with new members of the investigative team as they are added and/or facilitate the communication and interaction of any other departments that may become involved.
An important part of step nine is to put all information that has been gathered together in a conducive manner that can show the relation between people, places, and events. This includes using phone records, video surveillance, IP addresses, etc. Using department resources to do this, in addition to the “FTC’s ID Theft Clearinghouse on Consumer Sentinel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office NICLE program (TheIACP.org, 2014)”, can prove to be an invaluable source of information.
Further analysis of the intricacies of the crime can be done by looking at other similar crimes and attempting to find other crimes which fit the pattern of these crimes. Few crimes are actually single random acts; they are more often part of a larger ring or a set of crimes which have been perpetrated over time. By using the information garnered using our own resources, we can peruse files of other similar crimes and see if they are consistent with any of the past crimes. The questions as to whether this could be part of a bigger operation or a continuation of a set of escalating crimes would then need to be addressed.
As far as the need for additional investigators or outside agencies to get involved in the investigation, it is dependent on the scope of the incident and whether or not there is need for a more in-depth investigation into certain areas of expertise which are not covered by the agencies already involved or if this is a pattern of crimes which have been repeated in other locales by someone who has moved.
Once the list of suspects has been interviewed, the evidence gathered and determinations have been made, then the final step in the investigation, the investigative report, can be prepared for delivery to the appropriate authorities. This report should include everything that the investigation has found during its scrutiny of the evidence and the exploration into the backgrounds of the players involved.
The sequence of steps has been created and refined over time as a simple, effective working tool for law enforcement. As new technologies impact the field of law enforcement, especially in areas of forensics, identification and surveillance, these steps will be modified to include these new technologies and assist an officer of the law in the performance of his duties as they pertain to the apprehension of criminals who think they are above the law.
HR.BLR.com. (October 23, 2007). 10 Steps to an Effective Investigation. Taken From: http://hr.blr.com/HR-news/Performance-Termination/Workplace-Complaints-and-Investigations/10-Steps-to-an-Effective-Investigation
TheIACP.org. (2014). Investigative Steps. Taken From: http://www.theiacp.org/investigateid/investigation/nuts-and-bolts-of-investigation/investigative-steps/
Michelle Hoffmann is the owner, editor and publisher of The 24KaratMarketer Ezine – http://free24karatmarketer.com, an online publication that is dedicated to helping marketers, new and experienced, succeed in their online businesses. She is also a mother, writer, photographer, KB Vision distributor and criminal justice major. Yes, she does it all!