CASE SCREENING AND CASE MANAGEMENT FOR INVESTIGATIONS (police)

 

The concept of managing criminal investigations (MCI) from a ”scientific” perspective has its roots in a Rochester Police Department project in the 1970s and in several other reports by the RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum. Over the years, and with the introduction of computer technology, more effective methods of managing the investigative process have been developed. Among the criteria developed to better manage investigations are:

• Number of cases handled

• Number and percentage of cases cleared

• Number and percentage of cases accepted for prosecution

• Number and percentage of convictions

Cases handled and cases cleared are largely the responsibility of the investigative unit and individual investigators, and serve as a measure of the effectiveness of the crime investigation process. A case may be cleared by an arrest or exceptionally when it can be determined that more than one crime may have been committed by a one or more individuals, but the suspect is deceased or is only charged with one crime. A case may also be cleared as unfounded.

The number of cases accepted for prosecution and the number of convictions are largely under the auspices of the prosecutor or the judiciary, which may involve a jury. An important consideration in evaluating investigators has been the premise that placing responsibility for prosecution on an investigator can unduly influence or pressure an individual detective to go beyond accepted legal and procedural methods in order to obtain a conviction. Further, if a prosecution is unsuccessful it is frequently difficult to determine who might have been responsible for a dismissal or an acquittal.

Several other components of managing criminal investigations include the elements of the process and case screening methods. In evaluating an MCI program the following points are important:

• The initial investigation

• Case screening

• Management of ongoing investigations

• Police-prosecutor relations

• Ongoing monitoring of the process

Solvability Factors

Case screening is an important aspect of both effectiveness and efficiency, because experience indicates that not all cases are solvable, at least at the outset of an investigation. For this reason managers frequently rely on so-called solvability factors, which have proven to be instrumental in an investigation. These include:

• Is there a witness to the crime?

• Is a suspect named?

• Is there a description of the suspect?

• Can a suspect be located?

• Can a vehicle be identified?

• Is stolen property traceable?

• Is physical evidence present?

• Is there a distinguishable modus operandi ?

• Can crime analysis help identify a perpetrator?

These elements form the basis for MCI. Coupled with a monitoring system they make it possible for administrators to better manage resources devoted to crime investigation. Generally, it should be noted that this model is designed largely for more ”common” types of cases, such as theft, burglary, and robbery, whereas cases involving murder, rape, organized crime, and terrorism will involve more than a preliminary investigation.

By focusing on the solvability of most criminal cases that come to the attention of law enforcement, better utilization of investigative resources can be attained. However, it should be noted that improved technology and better training of investigators has made it possible to ”keep an eye” on cases that might not appear to be solvable following a preliminary investigation. For example, in a burglary where there is not enough evidence or information to pursue an immediate investigation, the information about the crime can be stored in a computer that may later serve to link a suspect arrested or identified in a future crime. Advances in crime analysis have made it possible to store information on modus operandi (MO or method of operation), prior arrests for similar crimes, identification of property that may turn up later, and persons released from prison who committed similar crimes in the past.

MCI is also used by administrators to assess the effectiveness of investigative operations and to a lesser degree the effectiveness of investigators. By monitoring such variables as the percentage of crimes solved or cleared, the effectiveness of individual investigators (when compared with other investigators handling similar cases), and resources employed, it is frequently possible to identify the need for additional training, better allocation of human resources, equipment and technology needs, and better preparation of cases.

Experience has shown that some investigators are better prepared, through experience, education, training, and motivation, to handle certain types of cases. For example, some investigators are better at handling interviews and interrogations, whereas others may be more suited to use a computer or to collect evidence that may have gone unnoticed. Other investigators may be more familiar with geographic locations and the use of informants or surveillance techniques.

Criminal investigation has become more complex over time as offenders have become more mobile, more aware of investigative methods, more familiar with the legal system, and more adept at ”covering their tracks.” At the same time investigative expertise has been enhanced by better training; new technology, such as single-digit computer systems (AFIS, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System); advances in forensic science (such as DNA); and the adoption of relational databases.

Procedural Aspects of MCI

Of particular importance is the recognition that not all categories of crime are similar. Homicide investigations, for example, are different from burglary investigations. Thus, in developing a program it is important not to mix ”apples and oranges” during the design phase. This has proven to be one of the drawbacks of MCI, because in many organizations more experienced investigators are frequently assigned the more difficult cases, and it may appear that their productivity is lower than that of an investigator who handles cases that are easier to solve. Strong-arm robberies, for example, are generally more difficult to solve than armed robberies, and residential burglaries may be more difficult to solve than business burglaries. Nevertheless, over time MCI provides a methodology for evaluating a unit’s effectiveness and efficiency, as well as assisting in better case assignments.

Of particular concern in the MCI model is the assignment of ”weighting” factors, and very little research has been done to test the effectiveness of the scores assigned to each category. For example, one of the more popular models of case screening uses the point scores shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Assignment of Weighting Factors


Gravity of offense

Points

Felony

5

Misdemeanor

3

Probability of solution Suspects

 

Suspect named

10

Suspect known or described

10

Witness available

4

Vehicle identified

5

Physical evidence recovered

1

Undeveloped leads available Urgency of action

1

Danger to others

4

Immediate action required

3

Pattern or frequency of crime

1

In the model shown in Table 1, the number of points generated dictates the following priority levels and points necessary to assign a priority:

Priority Level

Points

1

20+

2

12-19


3

6-11

4

0-5

There is likely to be some room for subjectivity, and the scores are open to question. For example, a crime scene that yields latent prints that might be matched by AFIS would seem to have a fairly high priority of solution if a match should occur. Should the availability of a witness be important if the witness can provide no information? How does one determine the need for ”immediate action”?

Such questions place great responsibility on the investigative review officer or supervisor, who should have the knowledge and expertise to ”overrule” the point count if necessary. One must keep in mind that MCI is a tool, generally designed to assist in prioritizing caseloads, with a view toward identifying those cases that have the highest probability of solution. It should help improve decision making, especially in units where there are high caseloads.

The MCI model has proven to be an important tool in law enforcement administration when used as a means of better deploying resources, improving investigative effectiveness, evaluating individuals over time, and increasing the probability of solving crimes. Utilized as a means of improving investigations—and not as a tool solely to put pressure on investigators to make arrests—the MCI model can contribute to improving criminal investigations.

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