By Rothwell, Gary
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin , Vol. 75, No. 1
Day-to-day administrative responsibilities consume the time of most law enforcement managers, causing them to lose touch with the tactical and strategic aspects of criminal investigations. Many do not directly respond to crime scenes and seldom manage investigations. Further, they may find that previous supervisory training rarely addressed such situations. This holds especially true in the thousands of agencies that only occasionally encounter major crimes.
To this end, a brief reac-quaintance with basic investigative concepts will help managers react to these incidents with increased confidence by knowing what to do initially, as well as through familiarity with case management practices that enhance opportunities for investigative success. To coordinate investigations, managers can use these fundamental approaches seldom addressed in formal training and often forgotten or overlooked in actual operations. Measures include initial-response organizational tasks and investigative principles that can contribute to a successful outcome.
Anecdotes and experience appear to indicate that errors happen more often at the outset of criminal investigations than at any other time. This dilemma frequently occurs if investigators fail to ensure order at crime scenes or neglect to create it in their own approaches to investigations. Therefore, managers should ensure that investigators accomplish the following tasks early in an investigation.
Secure the Crime Scene
Supervisors should anticipate that a scene is not protected prior to their arrival, then take measures to secure it as soon as possible. This means clearing it of unnecessary personnel and identifying and interviewing all individuals previously present to determine whether they were involved in or witnessed the crime, as well as if and how they may have contaminated or altered the scene. This step proves especially important with emergency medical personnel, firefighters, and coroners; managers should ensure that their personnel determine not only what these first responders did while inside the scene but also what they saw that may have changed before police arrival. Securing the scene includes establishing a perimeter, with uniformed personnel if possible, to limit entrance to and exit from the area to authorized personnel and keeping a record of those persons who access it. When establishing the perimeter, managers should make sure it is sufficiently comprehensive--evidence often is missed because examined areas were too constricted.
Deploy Sufficient Personnel
Nearly all agencies face lean budgets and limited staffs. However, few things can slow down an investigation as quickly as assigning an insufficient number of personnel to perform investigative tasks in a timely manner. Managers should ensure the allocation of an adequate amount of officers to simultaneously conduct several investigative functions. Generally, at least four should cover scene security, evidence processing, witness interviews, and case supervision. The location and complexity of the crime scene, number of witnesses, and other factors can affect workforce requirements. Therefore, managers should err on overstaffing, relieving any unnecessary personnel when needed, and consider assistance from other agencies if necessary.
Establish Command and Investigative Structures
Managers should choose an individual, not necessarily an investigator, with sufficient authority to secure and allocate personnel and resources to facilitate the investigation and remain in charge. Further, supervisors immediately should assign a lead investigator who serves many purposes, such as providing a conduit through which investigative data is assimilated and leads are assigned to appropriate personnel. Information rapidly loses value when no one views the big picture and coordinates the gathering of additional pieces of the investigative puzzle. …