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Friday, May 5, 2017

Criminal Investigation Versus Policing: Completely Different Law Enforcement Functions

     Successful investigators are intelligent, analytical people who like to solve problems and figure things out. They are also curious, competitive, and well-organized in their work habits. They are unafraid of complexity, pay attention to detail, are articulate, and can express themselves on paper. Dedicated investigators are lifelong students, people who embrace new challenges and tough assignments. They are not only intelligent, they train themselves to think clearly, draw relevant conclusions, and keep bias out of their calculations.

     Individuals who make first-class detectives are often not suited for general police work, and a good cop will not necessarily turn into a competent investigator. The fields of law enforcement (peace keeping and order maintenance) and criminal investigation are vastly different functions that appeal to different kinds of people. The uniformed officer, often having to act quickly and decisively, instead of thoughtful discretion, is more likely to behave pursuant to a detailed code of rules and regulations committed to memory. Training a police officer is therefore nothing like preparing someone for criminal investigation. For that reason, criminal investigators should be recruited from an entirely different pool of candidates. For example, there is no reason to require trainee investigators to be as physically fit as uniformed police officers. Moreover, there is no reason to train future investigators on how to issue traffic tickets, handle drunks, bust drug suspects, or deal with domestic disturbance situations.

     The gap between policing and criminal investigation has widened as law enforcement agencies, focused on drug enforcement, and concerns with terrorism, have become more paramilitary in nature. Even small police departments field SWAT teams that keep sharp by arresting deadbeat dads, bad check passers, and shoplifting suspects. As the police have become less interested in criminal investigation, the public, having been educated by the O. J. Simpson case, and hooked on TV shows like "CSI," "The New Detectives," and "Forensic Files," have become increasingly more interested in, and knowledgeable about, the art and science of criminal investigation. This has widened another gap, one between public expectation, and police performance.

     Until general policing and criminal investigation are recognized and treated as separate vocations, criminal investigations of major, difficult crimes will continue to be regularly bungled. It is becoming increasingly difficult to think of a celebrated case that hasn't suffered from what could be at best termed mediocre detective work. In America, people who commit criminal homicide, not a particularly clever group of criminals, have a one-third chance of either avoiding detection, or arrest. One in a hundred arsonists end up in prison, and child molesters are having a field day. For the law breaker, America is the land of opportunity. And it is not because the U. S. Supreme Court has handcuffed detectives. Blaming democracy and due process for investigative failures has become second nature to investigators unwilling to face up to their inadequacies.

     Crime solution rates reveal just how bad our criminal investigators are doing. Only 20 percent of all criminal cases lead to an arrest. The crime solution rate hasn't changed since the FBI started keeping crime records back in 1933. The reason for this has to do with the fact that criminal investigation, as a function of the American criminal justice system, has never been a priority. This reality has created decades of public frustration and disillusionment. Instead of fixing the problem, the law enforcement community has tried to indoctrinate the public into believing that solving one out of five crimes is the best that can be expected. It's the old war-is-hell excuse. Even in baseball, batting 200 is considered mediocre.

     Investigative trainees are not only drawn from the wrong well, they are improperly trained by instructors who emphasize methods and techniques designed to resolve cases quickly rather than correctly. The emphasis is on the acquisition of direct evidence in the form of eyewitness identification, and the confession, rather than the more time consuming, and complex gathering and interpretation of physical evidence; an endeavor that requires special training, and more complicated thinking. Perhaps this is why so many crime scenes are either ignored, or improperly processed. This also explains why there are so many false confessions, and people sent to prison on the strength of questionable line-up and mug shot identifications. Another method of quickly getting a case off the books involves the use of unreliable jailhouse informants who testify against defendants to get off the hook themselves. The plea bargaining process that accounts for 90 percent of the convictions in this country masks how police detectives go about their business. Because there are so few criminal trials, there is no way to know how many confessions are illegally acquired, or how many searches are not based upon adequate probable cause.

     Because most detectives are not accustomed to digging deeply into a crime, that is peeling away layers and layers of leads, they are often stumped when merely scratching the surface of a case fails to reveal the perpetrator. There is also the problem of what I call the veteran rookie, the uniformed cop who after fifteen years on patrol, is rewarded with detective duty. These veteran rookies are not only ill-equipped to be investigators, they are often burned-out bureaucrats eyeing retirement.

     The use of task forces, and team investigations, attenuate investigative responsibility, and produces poor results. A single, competent investigator will out perform a team of fifty amateurs, without direction of vision, spinning their wheels around a case.

     Only a handful of college level criminal justice programs include credible courses on criminal investigation. Most criminal justice courses are in the areas of policing, corrections, and the sociology of crime. Too many criminal investigation courses are taught by academics teaching out of textbooks, or worse, by retired cops earning a little part time money by regaling students with war stories. This begs the question: can a qualified practitioner/lecturer teach college students how to become competent, well-rounded criminal investigators? Assuming that the classroom is filled with serious students who want to become investigators, the answer is, unfortunately, no. The most a criminal investigation professor can do is educate students about the art and science of criminal investigation. While this will not turn criminal justice majors into detectives, it might enhance a student's police training, and the all-important apprenticeship that should follow the police academy.

     At the very least, besides the basic crime solving techniques--crime scene work, interviewing, interrogation, and the like--students should be exposed to a philosophy or theory of crime solution that includes the proper attitude, mind set, and core investigative values that competent detectives possess. They can be taught how to recognize the elements of a solid investigation, and identify cases that are incomplete or flawed. If nothing else, students should come away from the course knowing the basic dos and don't of criminal investigation. All outstanding criminal investigators are the products of a solid education, good training, a long internship, close on-the-job mentoring, and relevant experience.         

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