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Eight Things a Chief Needs to Know About Investigations

Written by J.L. Sumpter

Few things are more damaging to a department than a chief not knowing the progress of major, or attention-grabbing, investigations. The chief must know what goes into these investigations and provide the needed training and equipment for a successful resolution. Communicating the progress and goals are also very important, especially to the community and the officers within the department.

Director John Calabrese of the Petoskey, Mich. Public Safety has narrowed down what is believed to be the eight most important things a chief must know about investigations. Director Calabrese has 29 years of law enforcement experience, having served with the Detroit Police Department and the Eastpointe Police Department before taking the Director’s job in Petoskey.

Practical Experience and Training

The chief should have some practical experience investigating cases. Obviously a chief who has performed these duties will have some insight on how to assist detectives in their investigations. Whether a move through the ranks involved time in the detective bureau or not, a chief should have some investigative experience.

Having practical experience makes a chief aware of what officers go through when dealing with certain crimes. This experience helps provide officers with useable insight. Respect is gained when the chief has knowledge of the law, procedures, and the energy going into an investigation.

Assigning the Priority of Resolution

The chief should know the investigative priorities of the community as well as the department. Serious, high-profile cases need immediate resources devoted to them. However, sometimes less serious crimes may be of great interest to the community. Political and media related issues can be avoided by a chief who recognizes that sometimes devoting time to less serious crimes are important and making sure these cases are investigated promptly and thoroughly.

Although high-profile cases get the most attention, it is sometimes those smaller investigations that can have the same impact on the community. The community wants to feel safe and secure, they want to know their chief is providing the best services possible. Of course, a homicide investigation deserves greater attention than a rash of larcenies from motor vehicles, but the feeling of safety could be the same. A chief should prioritize case load with urgency in mind, while preparing to back up his decision if the community wants answers.

Provide Up-To-Date Training and Equipment

The chief should be aware of current techniques and technology that may be helpful in conducting effective investigations. The chief needs to provide the most current training for detectives and provide modern equipment to deal with the ever-changing crimes we now see on a regular basis (phones, computers, DNA,). The current state of the law as it pertains to investigations….such as the new video interrogation law in many states.

With the onset of Internet and other computer related crimes, comes a challenge. A chief who is future driven knows to prepare and train officers on the many different investigative techniques. She must also plan current and future budgets for the training and equipment needed to combat these changes in crime.

Be Aware of Progress

The chief should monitor the status of all important cases, making sure that he/she is providing the necessary resources to the investigation. The chief needs to know all new information related to investigations, so that they are not caught off-guard by a reporter, local politician, or victim of a crime. Chiefs need to be on the lookout for investigators who may fall victim to the “halo effect” or have bias or prejudice toward the investigation.

Part of knowing the progress is the relationship he has with his officers. Having an open, trusting relationship with officers and investigators is very important for a chief. An “I am better than you” or “I want to find everything you did wrong” attitude does not work well in high-profile investigations.

An immediate butting of heads digs the heels in and attention is taken from what really needs to be done. An investigator constantly looking over his shoulder in worry of making a mistake does nothing for the investigation. Mistakes are made and not every “i” will be dotted or “t” crossed, so having a trusting relationship with officers helps combat these issues.

Maintain Good Working Relationships

Chiefs should be aware of the importance of the interaction between the local prosecutor and investigators, and the key role prosecutors play in the successful investigation and prosecution of a case. Working together with the prosecutor from the beginning of a case can make future litigation go more smoothly. Prosecutors can add valuable insight into what needs to be done to put together a court-ready case.

Having solid relationships at each level is very helpful to all involved. This helps provide insight into the role each level plays in the investigation. The compounding experience they bring to the table can do wonders for each level of litigation.

Have Knowledge of Available Resources

What resources are needed and what resources are available? Do you need to request help from neighboring departments for personnel, expertise, or jurisdiction? Using state police, federal agencies, and even non-law enforcement resources can aid investigators in certain cases.

Knowing area resources is very important especially in smaller communities. Having open communication with agencies is a key factor in knowing what is out there. This is done with periodic meetings or visits. Keep in mind, resources are not only tangible tools, but trained or gifted officers as well.

Also, the chief needs to know the current and past crime trends and how those crimes affect the community. Again, prioritizing and providing sufficient resources are important to dealing with emerging crime trends.

Utilize Officers from Every Division

Chiefs should know the importance of uniform patrol officers in investigating cases. By empowering the initial responding officers to conduct as thorough an investigation prior to involvement by detectives, cases can be initiated in the proper way. Patrol officers have great insight into things going on in their patrol areas, and can provide valuable information into the investigation. Also, supplementing detectives with uniformed officers can be helpful. There are many functions uniform officers can provide that can prove vital in the investigation.

Empowering officers at the uniform level to initiate the investigation is a twofold benefit. It gives officers experience and provides detectives another set of eyes. Along these same lines, knowing the department is a key attribute to a successful investigation. The strength of one officer may not be what is needed for a certain type of investigation. Placing officers in investigations that best utilize their strengths is important for a chief.

Necessary Tools to Conduct an Initial Investigation

Chiefs should know the importance of an initial investigation to a successful conclusion. A chief must assure all officers under their command have the necessary tools and training to get the case started properly. To accomplish this, each officer must possess skills such as evidence collection, interviewing and interrogation, and report writing. A chief has failed if these basic skills are not provided.

Although this training works wonders for confidence, using the experience of the chief or other seasoned officers is important. An investigator going into his/her first homicide is like jumping into a patrol car for the first time. He/she has the training, but his/her experience is lacking.

A chief without insight into his officer’s investigations is a crucial mistake. This doesn’t mean to simply know the details, but have up-to-date knowledge on law and investigation techniques. If a high-priority case presents itself, a chief must step back and take a look from the outside in, then develop a game plan to successful prosecution.

Major cases do not give a chief an opportunity to nitpick an officer’s decisions but to be there for advice and assistance when needed. Major criminal investigations involve a team, both within the department and sometimes outside agencies. Like a football coach, he/she uses the strengths of his/her team to win the game against crime.

J.L. Sumpter is a detective/sergeant with 18 years of experience at the Emmet County Sheriff's Office. He can be reached at jsump@me.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2014

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