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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Street Cops Don't Always Make Good Detectives

     Successful criminal 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 great attention to detail, are articulate, and can express themselves well on paper.

     Dedicated criminal investigators are life-long students, people who embrace new challenges and tough assignments. They are not only intelligent; they have trained themselves to think clearly, draw relevant conclusions, and keep bias out of their calculations. They are not afraid of difficult, emotionally draining work. Result oriented, they are not spinning their wheels until they are old enough to retire.

     People who make first-class detectives are often not suited for general police work, and a good street cop will not necessarily turn into even a merely 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 police officer, often having to act quickly and decisively, instead of thoughtful discretion, is more likely to act pursuant to a detailed code or rules and regulations which have been 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 job candidates. For example, there is no reason to require trainee investigators to be as physically fit as uniformed officers, or to learn how to deal with drunks, drug addicts, and domestic disturbances. It would be also a waste of time to school future detectives in traffic enforcement.

     Detective trainees are not only drawn from the wrong well, they are often improperly trained by instructors who emphasize investigative techniques designed to resolve cases quickly rather than correctly. The emphasis is quite often 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 complex 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 common method of getting a case off the books involves the use of unreliable jailhouse informants who testify against defendants in return for police or prosecution favors.

     Because most detectives are not accustomed to digging deeply into a case--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 the so-called "veteran rookie", the uniformed cop who after fifteen years on patrol finally makes the detective squad. These officers are not only investigative rookies, they are quite often burned-out bureaucrats waiting until they are old enough to retire. It's not that old dogs can't learn new tricks, they don't want to. 

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