One of the primary functions of a law enforcement agency is the investigation of crime. The study of criminal investigations is inherently multifaceted, by its very nature, in that there is a plethora of different types of crimes to be investigated. In small jurisdictions, where there is a limited number of criminal investigators, the investigators are forced to be generalists in that they have to have the knowledge to investigate various types of crimes, including crime scene processing. In larger agencies where there are a larger number of investigators, there are specialized units consisting of investigators or detectives who are assigned to their particular unit based on their expertise. In such cases, the criminal investigations division is separated into such units as persons (such as homicides, criminal sexual conduct, and assaults), property (such as grand theft auto, burglary, larceny, vandalism), narcotics and vice, crime scene, internal affairs, and juvenile.
Whether they are generalists or specialists, it is imperative that investigators utilize the same basic fundamentals, elements, and principles in order to achieve the same goals and objectives. Ideally, a systematic approach that is closely managed and monitored should ensure the successful resolution of an investigation.
This article is designed to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the role and intent of criminal investigations, how the criminal investigative function is assessed, and what measures have been put into place to determine effectiveness. The concept known as managing criminal investigations (MCI) will be explained, as well as how and why it came to be.
To fully understand the function of the criminal investigative process, its role in law enforcement, and the need for assessment, it is important to understand the history of law enforcement and the inception of the criminal investigations division.
American society has experienced significant changes in virtually every aspect of its existence. These changes did not occur overnight, but through the slow process of social evolution. Law enforcement, like many other social institutions, has evolved into what it is today as a result of societal changes. As society changed, law enforcement techniques and philosophies have adapted new strategies, leading to new policies, procedures, and methods of assessment (Caldwell 2001).
The foundations of modern law enforcement can be traced back to England as early as 900 C.E., with the emergence in American law enforcement dating to the country’s beginnings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, it was not until 1857 that the New York Police Department implemented the first nonuniformed detectives division (Lyman 2002). Thereafter, larger jurisdictions followed suit and the criminal investigations divisions (CIDs) were born across the United States.
The widespread inception of CID units was not without problems. Patrol officers were selected for CID units based upon friendships or clout and political considerations (Lyman 2002). The public was less than satisfied with the service provided by law enforcement agencies and did not feel that the investigators were capable of performing their duties. As a result, citizens would pay private companies, such as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, to conduct criminal investigations (Maltz 1999). The Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigations, developed in 1907, was also very ineffective. In 1924, the agency was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a new director, J. Edgar Hoover, took office and made it a goal to clean up the corruption.
In the late 1920s, the media began a public outcry by printing articles announcing crime waves. As a result, the International Associations of Chiefs of Police (IACP) created the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, in 1929, in an effort to collect data on national crime statistics to disprove media accounts of a crime wave (Maltz 1999). In the late 1960s, crime became even more of a public concern, and as a result, in 1967 crime control was the major campaign platform in the Johnson-Goldwater presidential race (Osterburg and Ward 2004).
Following that, federal funds were made available to improve law enforcement, as a whole. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NVCS) was developed in 1973 and was linked to the UCR in an effort to determine the relationship between the effectiveness of arrest and the overall relationships between law enforcement agencies. Around the same time, criminal investigations divisions came under scrutiny for the first time. In the early 1970s, the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice awarded federal funds to corporations to conduct nationwide studies of criminal investigations divisions to determine how police investigations were organized and managed.
There were two significant studies that paved the way to what is now referred to as managing criminal investigations, or MCI. The RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted research to determine how criminal investigations could be more effective (Osterburg and Ward 2004). Information for the research was obtained from various agencies from across the United States, the UCR, and the NVCS. A collaboration of the two studies produced guidelines and suggestions aimed at improving the criminal investigative function (Champion and Hooper 2003). The guidelines produced consisted of five elements and four considerations.
The five proposed elements recommended addressing the following issues:
1. The initial or preliminary investigation
2. Case screening
3. Follow-up investigation and management of ongoing investigations
4. Police-prosecutor relations
5. Continuous monitoring of the investigative process
Further, four considerations were adopted that would assist law enforcement agencies in governing the assessment of the investigative function: Maintaining an account of
1. The number of arrests
2. The number of cases cleared
3. The number of convictions
4. The number of cases accepted for prosecution
The primary purpose of MCI is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal investigations by providing a framework by which cases are assigned, managed, audited, and closed. Law enforcement agencies began putting the concept of MCI to work by revamping departmental policies, procedures, and assessment methods to incorporate the aforementioned elements and considerations of MCI with basic criminal investigations functions. Before taking a more in-depth look at MCI strategies, a definition of criminal investigations will be provided, along with the intent or responsibilities of criminal investigations, which will provide a clearer understanding of how MCI strategies fit into the grand scheme of things.
Criminal investigations has been defined as “the collection of information and evidence for identifying, apprehending, and convicting suspected offenders” (Osterburg and Ward 2004). The primary responsibility of a criminal investigative unit is to determine if a crime has been committed. If so, the second step of the investigation would be to determine whether the crime was committed in their particular jurisdiction. Primary responsibilities of the criminal investigator also include collecting and preserving physical evidence, legally obtaining information pertaining to the crime, recovering stolen property, identifying suspects and witnesses, apprehending perpetrators, preparing cases for court, and serving as a witness in court.
After determining whether a crime has been committed and the matter of jurisdiction is cleared up, the case investigation begins with a preliminary investigation. One of the main goals of the preliminary investigation is to identify leads or clues as to the identity of the offender and to locate and preserve evidence. The preliminary investigation begins the moment the primary patrol officer is dispatched to a call for service. Patrol officers begin looking for suspects, victims, and/or witnesses while en route to the incident location, in case anyone has fled the scene. The primary patrol officer should obtain as much suspect, victim, and/or witness information from the dispatcher as possible while en route to the scene. Being well informed will assist the primary patrol officer with developing a plan of approach prior to his or her arrival on the scene.
The preliminary investigation may be sufficient to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion, thus eliminating the need for a follow-up investigation. However, complicated investigations may require additional efforts beyond those listed above. In such instances, an investigator from the criminal investigations division (CID) may be notified and respond to the scene. Upon arrival of the investigator, the initial follow-up investigation begins.
The follow-up investigation should be conducted in a methodical manner, just as was the preliminary investigation, so as to not disturb the crime scene. The investigator should be briefed by the primary patrol officer before beginning the investigation. The investigator may also want to speak with the victim, witnesses, and perpetrator, if applicable, to clarify or expand upon information obtained by the primary patrol officer, before processing the crime scene or contacting the crime scene unit. Should the CID supervisor feel that there are potential solvability factors that were not seen by the primary patrol officer, he or she will assign the case to a criminal investigator for follow-up investigation.
The purpose of the follow-up investigation is to discover additional information in order to clear a case, identify and arrest an offender, recover stolen property, gather additional evidence, and present this evidence in court. The follow-up investigation may require that the assigned criminal investigator review and analyze all previous reports prepared in the preliminary stage, check department records for other reports of like nature or with the same subject, and review any laboratory examinations; conduct additional follow-up inquiries, interviews, and interrogations of victims, witnesses, responding officers, and/ or suspects; seek additional information through interviews of uniformed officers, informants, or other groups; and/or plan, organize, and conduct searches and collect additional physical evidence.
Following these duties, the assigned criminal investigator is responsible for identifying and apprehending suspects, to include the use of physical and photo lineups; determining involvement of suspects in other crimes of a similar nature; checking all suspects’ criminal histories at local, state, and national levels; preparing cases for court presentation by ensuring that case files are complete and accurate, that lab examination reports are on file, and that witnesses can be located. Finally, the case investigator should make a “second contact” with the victim in a case requiring follow-up investigation or when the case is closed.
As mentioned, the preliminary investigation begins immediately upon the arrival of patrol officers at the scene of an incident or upon taking a report and continues until such time as a postponement of the investigation or transfer of responsibility will not jeopardize the successful completion of the investigation. The officers assigned to the preliminary investigation will generally continue with the investigation as time and resources exist. In some instances, the preliminary investigation may produce enough evidence and perpetrator information to substantiate probable cause and result in an arrest at the scene, should the perpetrator still be present. If the perpetrator has fled the scene, the same information may be used to obtain an arrest warrant, which may be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system, until the perpetrator can be located. In other cases, the case information will be submitted in the form of an incident report, at which time the case is assigned to a criminal investigator for further follow-up investigation by a CID supervisor.
Each incident report is assigned a status by the primary patrol officer. The status assigned to an incident report was done as per the UCR until the inception of the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in the early 1990s (Rantala 2000). The case status, assigned by the patrol officer, is based upon the findings during the preliminary investigation. The UCR provides three types of case clearances: cleared by arrest, closed by other, or unfounded. NIBRS, in effect, has provided additional or more specific case classification categories. Those categories are active, administratively closed, cleared by arrest, exceptionally cleared, or unfound-ed—shall be assigned to each case, as appropriate, to assist in case management and control. A description of each type of case status is as follows:
1. Active (open) indicates that the case is assigned to an officer and investigative efforts are active and ongoing.
2. Administratively closed (noncriminal incident or investigation suspended) indicates that all available leads have been exhausted, but the case has not been brought to a conclusion and investigative efforts may be resumed if new evidence or leads are discovered at a later date.
3. Cleared by arrest (closed) indicates that the case has been cleared by the arrest of the offender(s).
4. Exceptionally cleared (closed) indicates that the case has been cleared due to death ofthe offender, no prosecution, extradition denied, victim declines cooperation, or juvenile— no custody.
5. Unfounded indicates that the alleged offense did not occur.
If the primary patrol officer is unable to apprehend the perpetrator during the preliminary investigation and there are no solvability factors apparent in the preliminary investigation of the case, the case may be immediately taken from an active status and placed in the administratively closed status. This may be done by the reporting officer, noting the lack of solvability factors clearly in the report and immediately advising the victim that the case will be suspended until investigative leads are developed or other information leading to a possible solution of the crime surfaces.
The initial report, taken by the primary patrol officer, is then reviewed by a CID supervisor for further case screening and a reassessment of solvability factors. A solvability factor is information about a crime, which can provide the basis for determining who committed the crime. Generally, departmental experience has shown that when a preliminary investigation or second contact fails to disclose one or more of these solvability factors, the case will have very little chance of being solved. CID supervisors may rely on certain solvability factors to determine whether to assign a case for follow-up investigation. Solvability factors may include whether a suspect can be named or otherwise identified or whether there is any physical evidence or witnesses from which a lead may be developed. If any of these factors exist, a follow-up investigation may be warranted. If no such solvability factors exist, the investigation may be suspended and the case may be considered administratively closed.
During the follow-up investigation, the investigator should maintain a case file for each assigned case. Some of the types of records that are maintained in the case file are copies of incident reports, investigator case log reports, copies of warrants, booking reports, statements, photos, lab reports, investigative notes, and so forth.
Upon completion of a follow-up investigation, the case file should be turned over to the CID supervisor, who will in turn document the final status of the case. A CID supervisor’s log may consists of the following information:
1. Case number
2. Type of crime
3. Victims’ names
4. Suspects’ names (if applicable)
5. Investigator who was assigned to the case
6. Date that the case was assigned
7. Date the case was closed
9. Amount of property recovered (if applicable)
The log serves as a tool in producing monthly reports that give department administrators feedback on the performance of the investigators by producing a closure rate or percentage. The report can be used to identify any possible inadequate or ineffective investigative techniques at either the preliminary or follow-up level, allowing law enforcement agencies to improve their overall solvability rate.
During the follow-up investigation, it is recommended that the case investigator maintain contact with the prosecutor. The development of positive relations between the police and the solicitor’s or district attorney’s office is essential in the successful prosecution of an offender. According to Osterburg and Ward (2004), there are five essential steps that should be followed to ensure cooperation and understanding between the police and the prosecutor:
1. Increased consultation between the police and the prosecutor
2. Increased cooperation between supervisors of both entities
3. Use of liaisons to communicate to police personnel the investigatory techniques and evidence standards that the prosecutor requires to file a case
4. Improved case preparation procedures, including the use of forms and checklists
5. Development of a system of formal and informal feedback by keeping police personnel abreast or involved in court proceedings (Champion and Hooper 2003)
To measure and assess the effectiveness of MCI, law enforcement agencies have produced evaluations and case study reports of field tests. In 1979, many law enforcement agencies produced reports to the U.S. Department of Justice, via the Urban Institute, evaluating the MCI program. In an effort to show the effectiveness of MCI, reports from three different law enforcement agencies were provided.
The first agency is the Montgomery County (Maryland) Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The MCSO report covered the duration of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) grant they received for assistance in implementing the MCI program, from December 1976 to August 1978. The primary focus of the MCSO was to decentralize investigative functions by involving patrol officers more in both the preliminary and follow-up investigations. Further, the MCSO replaced traditional ways of managing investigations with MCI case management procedures. The results concluded that the relationship between the patrol officers and investigators became more positive, while the relationship with the prosecutor changed very little. Finally, the MCSO reported that there was no change in the number of case clearances or the number of arrests (Nalley and Regan 1979).
The second case study is of the Birmingham (Alabama) Sheriff’s Office (BCSO). The BCSO reported that they had set out to measure the effectiveness of MCI upon applying MCI strategies to the management of their criminal investigations unit.
The changes that the BCSO made were the decentralization of the criminal investigations function as well as implementation of MCI case screening techniques (Regan 1979). Their final evaluation report concluded that their two goals in implementing MCI, increasing arrests for serious crimes and increasing cases that prosecution accepted to pursue, had not been achieved. The final report provided statistics to the effect that at least 85% of the cases were cleared as needing no other follow-up or investigation. ”The ratio of arrests to offenses maintained its previous pattern, fluctuating between 6% and 17% for burglary and continuing to decline for larceny” (Regan 1979). Although the BCSO reported that their goals were not met, they would continue applying the MCI strategies as a means of increasing the overall effectiveness of their investigative function.
The final report that will be examined here is from the Rochester (New York) Police Department (RPD). The RPD applied MCI techniques to four activities: managing continuing investigations, improving police-prosecutor relationships, conducting preliminary investigations, and case screenings. Police records and statistics revealed that little change had occurred, in the aforementioned areas, during or after the implementation of MCI techniques (Nalley 1979).
With the inception of the concept of MCI, criminal investigations divisions have in place a framework that will help them lead case investigations in a methodical manner. MCI considerations, in conjunction with basic investigative functions, have provided standards that will assist law enforcement agencies in becoming more effective. Further, MCI provides recommendations for governing the assessment of the investigative function from the preliminary investigation to case screening, the management and monitoring of an ongoing investigation, and the effect of police-prosecutor relations on the successful prosecution of an offender.