Main Body

Chapter 11: Summary

The goal of this book has been to provide a new student of investigation with an overview of the skills required by a criminal investigator. As an introduction to criminal investigation, this overview has intentionally avoided delving into many areas of specialized criminal investigation. Some of these areas of investigation, such as financial crime, criminal profiling, and computer crime, are so unique and focused, that they cannot be adequately summarized here. That said, persons seeking to move into these specialized areas of investigation are well served to properly learn the core skill that are presented here.

This book has outlined the task skills and thinking skills required to guide the process of investigation. Presented here as a structured investigative model, the STAIR tool brings together the task skills relating to gathering, preserving, and documenting evidence with the thinking skills of analysis, theory development, investigation and fact validation. This structured system is intended to help new investigators achieve a personal awareness of their own investigative thinking, and create their own mental map for an investigative process that can be followed, documented, repeated, and enhanced through professional experience.

In the past, learning the necessary investigative skills and thinking were expected to evolve and develop in a model where the learner received basic police training, and was then exposed to progressively more complex investigations. This allowed the investigator to evolve their-own mental map for a functional investigative process. In this traditional learning model, investigators were expected to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes to evolve their personal learning of the investigative process. Often under the guidance of mentors and field trainers, good criminal investigators developed their skills and reach high levels of professionalism and competency. This book is not intended to take issue with the traditional learning model, but to suggest a means where new investigators are provided a thinking perspective and tools that enable them to enhance their learning process in ways other than exclusively through personal experience.

The intent of this book has been to provide readers with a head start in their investigative learning process by discussing the need to be aware of their own thinking process and to create a mental map. The STAIR tool has been developed to provide a guide to this mental mapping process. In doing so, this book discussed criminal law, witness management, interviewing and interrogation, crimes scene management, and forensic sciences. Many of these topics are sufficiently complex that entire books have been written about them. In this book, the treatment of these topics has been intentionally introductory to provide the reader with a basic awareness of each topic in its specific relationship to the criminal investigative process. As a very broad overview of these key issues, the new investigator will only have a generalist understanding of these topics and can use this book to assist them in evolving their ongoing learning in a self-directed mode relative to their perceived needs as the complexities of their new investigations might demand.

Investigative Learning Going Forward

Many topics relative to investigative practices have not been covered as part of the core knowledge requirements for a new investigator. These topics include:

  1. Major Case Management
  2. Informant and confidential source management
  3. Undercover investigations
  4. Specialized team investigations

While we cannot consider these topics in any depth, it will important for the new investigator to at least know about them with respect to more advanced practices of criminal investigation.

Topic 1: Major Case Management

A contemporary practice for the handling of major criminal investigations involving multiple jurisdictions, multiple investigative agencies, and often serial criminal events, Major Case Management is a system designed to achieve order, cooperation, and information sharing between police agencies. In Canada, creating and adopting the practices of Major Case Management was driven by the 1995/1996 report and Commission of Inquiry recommendations of Justice Archie Campbell examining the various police agency investigations into the activities of Paul Bernardo, who was a serial rapist and murderer whose activities between 1987 and 1992 included the rape or sexual assault of at least eight women in the areas of Scarborough, Peel, and St Catharines, Ontario, and the murder of three women in St. Catharines and Burlington, Ontario (Campbell, 1996). To quote directly from the Campbell’s report:

The Bernardo case, like every similar investigation, had its share of human error. But this is not a story of human error or lack of dedication or investigative skill. It is a story of systemic failure.

It is easy, knowing now that Bernardo was the rapist and the killer, to ask why he was not identified earlier for what he was. But the same questions and the same problems have arisen in so many other similar tragedies in other countries.

Virtually every interjurisdictional serial killer case including Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Rapist) and Black (the cross-border child killer) in England, Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer in the United States and Clifford Olsen in Canada, demonstrate the same problems arise and the same questions. And always the answer turns out to be the same – systemic failure. Always the problems turn out to be the same, the mistakes the same, and the systemic failures the same.

What is needed is a system of case management for major interjurisdictional serial predator investigations. As system that corrects the defects demonstrated by this and so many similar cases.

A case management system is based on co-operation, rather than rivalry, among law enforcement agencies. A case management system is needed that depends on specialized training, early recognition of linked offences, co-ordination of interdisciplinary and forensic resources, and some simple mechanisms to ensure unified management, accountability and co-ordination when serial predators cross police borders. (Campbell, 1996)

From the recommendations of the Campbell Report, the Canadian Police College in Ottawa, Ontario took a leadership role in working with police agencies and investigators from across Canada to develop a major case management system and training that would address the concerns raised by the Campbell report. The major case management system allows for the creation of case specific major case management teams when it is determined that a serious criminal investigation crosses jurisdictional boundaries. In this system, the major case management team operates as an autonomous case specific unit, led by a command group comprised of a team commander, a primary investigator, and a file coordinator. In this structure, the team is staffed with experienced investigative personnel from each of the partner agencies, and no single partner agency has control over the conduct of the investigation.

Partner agencies receive reports on the investigative progress and provide their collective input to the team through contact with only the team commander. The major case management team handles the specific case, receiving all evidence and incoming information through the file coordinator as TIPS and each TIP is assigned by the primary investigator for follow up by the investigators on the team. The team follows a strict regime of daily information sharing through a process of daily briefings, and all team members are encouraged to share their investigative progress and to assist in the creation and development of investigative strategies. New or inexperienced investigators are not assigned to duties as part of a Major Case Management team. Being selected to participate as an investigator on one of these team means that your investigative skills have reached the point where you can be counted on to perform at a very high level.

Topic 2: Informant and Confidential Source Management

Informants and confidential sources often provide police investigators with information to solve a single crime or to investigate a criminal organization. In court cases, such as R vs Basi (2009), the courts have recognized that confidential informants are a critical tool for effective police work. Given this, the court provides privilege for the police and Crown to not reveal the identity of a source in court, particularly in cases where that privilege has been asked for by the source and agreed to by the police as a condition of providing information (Dostal, 2012).

Even with the condition of anonymity, experienced source handlers know that if their informant participates in the criminal event as an agent of the police, the source can be classified by the courts as an “agent provocateur”, and may not claim the privilege of anonymity. These complexities of confidentiality make source and informant management a very sensitive matter. Failure to manage the informant or their information properly can result in the identity of the person being revealed with the risk of deadly consequences or having to put the informant into a witness protection program.

The field of informant management and protection requires trust building and communication skills that will be effective with persons who are part of the criminal community. This is sometimes achieved by using discretion, not pursuing the more minor criminal activities of an informant, or even trading away certain criminal charges against the informant in exchange for specific information on a more serious crime. These strategies can be very delicate, and often require the collaboration with Crown Prosecutors in cases where the administration of justice may be compromised by an investigator acting independently.

A new investigator would not become involved in these higher level informant management cases, but could start building the framework and network of street-level contacts to learn the skills of informant management. The first stages of building the skill set to manage informants and confidential sources starts with learning to have non-judgemental conversations with members of the criminal community. When persons in the criminal community see a police investigator as fair, friendly, and approachable, this opens the door for the investigator to approach those contacts for specific inquiries when an occasion presents itself.

Topic 3: Undercover Investigations

An undercover investigation is the practice of a police officer posing as someone other than a police officer for the purpose of collecting evidence of criminal activity that would otherwise be difficult to acquire. The possible personas of the undercover investigator are almost limitless and can range from posing as a person seeking to purchase drugs from local traffickers to impersonating a vulnerable elderly citizen in a park to capture a purse snatcher preying on the elderly. There are also deep undercover strategies that may include establishing a longer term identity with the purpose of infiltrating a criminal organization or a dissident political group to gain internal intelligence of organizational activities, culture, and membership.

Police investigators often find undercover strategies successful because criminal activity can be witnessed firsthand, and admissions of guilt made to undercover operators by criminals can be admitted to court without the need of the usual voir dire to test for admissibility. When conducting undercover operations, investigators must be careful to ensure that their presence and communication with the suspect is not the catalyst that causes that person to initiate a crime or carry through with a crime they would not otherwise have done. If these dynamics of initiating the crime occur, a defence of entrapment can sometimes be made on behalf of the accused person. New investigators may be given the opportunity to participate in minor undercover roles fairly early in their careers, and these can be valuable learning experiences.

Topic 4: Specialized Team Investigations

The urbanization of communities and the evolution of fields of specialized policing have created new opportunities for officers. Where it was once the case that a police officer was expected to be a generalist capable of working across a wide range of policing fields, the level of expertise now expected in many fields is such that specialized investigative teams have become the norm. Specialized investigative duties now include:

  • Forensic Identification Section
  • Traffic Analyst and Accident Reconstruction Units
  • Criminal intelligence and Crime Analysis
  • Criminal and Geographic Crime Profiling
  • Polygraph section and specialized interview teams
  • Computer Crime Analysts and Data Recovery
  • Organized Crime Sections
  • Gang Crime Unit
  • Integrated Homicide Investigation Teams
  • Dedicated Surveillance Units
  • Community Policing Teams

For a new investigator, each of these specialities offers an area and a direction where they may decide to direct their career, and it is not uncommon for a police officer to move through several specialized sections over the course of their policing career. What each of these specialized teams does have in common is that investigators on these teams have all achieved the level of basic investigative task skills and thinking skills required to make them a valuable asset to their team and their organization.

As new investigators continue to develop their investigative knowledge applying the task skills and thinking skills presented in this book, it is important to remember that practice and experience are critical components of the ongoing investigative learning. Many police organizations have carefully developed field training programs where new recruits are challenged to engage and demonstrate investigative skills within a set schedule of tasks to complete the compulsory training.

Once this set schedule is completed, it is then incumbent upon the new investigator to become a more self-directed learner. In most policing organizations the path to ongoing investigative duties and the associated experience and skills development that come with those duties, is only available to those who actively seek that experience.

The secret to continued development as an investigator is a simple one; become a self-directed learner and seek out investigative experience and learning at any and all levels available. These work experiences may seem mundane and tedious at times, but every witness interviewed, every search completed, each piece of evidence properly collected and marked, every report written, and every experience testifying in court, is part of the ongoing experience and learning.

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Chapter 11: Summary by Rod Gehl is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.