Investigative Psychology – What Does It Mean And How Can It Help Law Enforcement Investigations?

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

Law enforcement investigations are generally divided into specific departments, divisions and units. There are so many divisions and units it would take an hour just to list them. This is not the intent of this article. This article is about how ‘Investigative Psychology’ (IP) can assist law enforcement in any and all of the investigations they perform.

Crime is everywhere and it dominates the newspapers and new broadcasts. All of the television channels this week have been dominated about the Casey Anthony criminal case and the jury finding her innocent of murdering her daughter, Caylee.

Studying just how ‘Investigative Psychology’ (IP) plays an important role in law enforcement cases is something of interest to the average person. Most people want to know how someone is found and arrested for committing a specific crime. For the most part people think IP is used to track down serial killers.

IP is much more than the production of ‘offender profiles’ on serial killers, as is commonly believed. IP provides a framework for the integration of many aspects of psychology into all areas of police and other investigations, covering all forms of crime that may be examined by the police as well as areas of activity that require investigation that may not always be considered by police investigators… (Canter and Youngs, 2008).

IP deals with the psychological input to the full gamut of issues that relate to the management, investigation, prosecution of crime and defenses of suspects. IP isn’t just a one step, two step and three step type of criminal or civil investigation. The police attempt to utilize IP to a certain degree, but the training and education in the IP field is minimal and lacking in the law enforcement field.

If law enforcement officials could see the value of IP, they would have their entire staff of officer’s trained and educated into the theories behind it. The problem with having law enforcement officers educated and trained is there are little to no trainers in the IP field. So what exactly do we need law enforcement to do to get trained and educated? The answer is not simple and will take several articles to make a decision about the why’s and why not’s.
In using IP, decision making are a significant aspect(s) of having the investigation go through a series of options. The law enforcement officer must decide if the options presented will allow him/her to go through a series of tests. This may or may not advance the investigation in the direction of apprehending the perpetrator and bringing the perpetrator to court.

Most law enforcement officers are led by protocols, procedures and processes. In utilizing IP, the law enforcement officers are led by decision making which constitutes the investigation process can be derived from consideration of the sequence of activities that detectives follow, starting from the point at which a crime is committed through the bringing of the case to court.

The detectives will reach decision making through the sequence of activities. Then he/she will have to make decisions with the possibilities of what the information provides. In earlier articles I have spoken about ‘alternative hypothesis’ when considering the motive of the crime and/or why a criminal did something specific in the crime. In IP it is no different that the science behind how the investigation is conducted may exhaust all the possibilities.

In the majority of crimes, the information that is gathered is like a puzzle which has been rearranged all over the house. As the law enforcement officer picks up the pieces some of the puzzle may come together. Unfortunately, in most investigations, the missing pieces are lost, stolen, or rearranged to the point where nothing makes since.

Since investigations are generally not straight forward, the law enforcement officer must make the decisions which will take him/her in a direction where they may be able to bring back the pieces of the puzzle. The investigative process of bringing back the puzzle, maybe a significant step which was necessary to identify the perpetrator; and then in the end, prove their case in court.

Investigative Psychology is an interesting approach when it comes to the processes which an investigator must consider. Over the next week I will examine the many aspects of IP which I believe could have made a difference in the Casey Anthony case. It is important for all of you to remember to remain objective until all the evidence is reviewed by using the IP methods and techniques. Some of the areas we will review are: when a crime occurs what is law enforcements responsibilities; what are law enforcements actions; the information which is gathered during the process; and receiving a verdict in a court of law.

The IP process is not so complex that the average law enforcement officer cannot understand or use it. On the contrary, most law enforcement officers have the knowledge, intelligence, competence and critical thinking skills to use to solve the crime. If the system fails and someone like Casey Anthony is not convicted, it may have nothing to do with the effort or direction the law enforcement officials employed. 

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