7.11.2011

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



By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

In the law enforcement investigative field, there are multiple investigative methods and techniques which are utilized to gather direct and circumstantial evidence to prove or disprove if a criminal act was committed. In this article we will examine just how the quality and futuristic ideologies make a difference when it comes to investigating child sexual abuse allegations.


Beginning in the last three decades of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, child sexual abuse allegations were approached at first with a narrow investigative attitude and changed as the first decade of the 20th century came into view. The need for a change in the narrow investigative attitude was there were numerous innocent individuals who were accused of committing the act of child sexual abuse.

Moving into the second decade of the 20th century specific sciences began to become involved in just how an allegation of child sexual abuse should be investigative. Since the 1990’s Dr. David Canter and Dr. Donna Youngs, began writing dozens of books, articles, in journals, lectured and trained law enforcement in the field of Investigative Psychology (IP). Dr. Canter and Dr. Youngs approach was new and refreshing for the law enforcement community.

Dr. Canter and Dr. Youngs created an investigative attitude where applied psychology presented new ideologies about profiling the predator, specifically in serial murder cases. Eventually, Dr. Canter and Dr. Youngs had to admit that the work they were doing in applied psychology was really in a new intellectual and competent science called Investigative Psychology (IP).

Some history on IP, which will make the first three articles I authored understandable and interesting.  In the early development stages of IP, the police, began analyzing the behavior of criminals. Generally, these analyses were conducted in the psychiatry field and led to identifying what criminal actions matched the crime. The IP system gathered its strengths from investigations which were conducted over the past three decades. Training was limited until the middle of the 19th century when the FBI created a course which would train its officers and law enforcement officials from local, county and State agencies.

In modern time the FBI Behavioral Science Unit provided training courses on the systematic considerations of criminal behavior. The training and education in the United States has strictly been conducted in Quantico at the FBI College.

In understanding criminal actions the law enforcement officials must understand the crime and make deductions about the details of the crime using general common sense. In order to be a successful IP Detective, the IP Detective must understand the criminal element in his/her community. Once the IP Detective understands who the perpetrators are it will be easier for the IP Detective to understand who may have committed the crime. 

One of the fathers of IP Hans Gross stated, “Let this be our fundamental principle: That we criminalists receive from our main source the witnesses, many more inferences than observations, and that this fact is the basis of so many mistakes in our work. Again and again we are taught, in the deposition of evidence, that only facts as plain sense-perceptions should be presented; that inference is the judge’s affair. But we only appear to obey this principle; actually, most of what we note as fact and sense-perception, is nothing but a more or less justified judgment, which though presented in the honestest belief, still offers no positive truth (1911: 16).”

Hans Gross was correct in his professional expert opinion about the interviewer and interviewee. The systematic approach which IP provides in any investigation is the structure of the interview process. The relevance to law enforcement officials is recognizing that in any interview the IP Detective must be cognizant that the witness may intentionally provide information which is based on inferences and not their observations.

These types of witnesses are too often the majority of individuals that the IP Detective will come across. However, a well-trained IP Detective should have the critical thinking skills to understand what are supposition, fact and fiction. The outcome of an investigation could be based on several witnesses who provide inferences instead of fact. If the IP Detective does not clearly understand the witnesses are not being factual in their observations, then an innocent person may be apprehended, criminally charged and incarcerated for a crime he/she didn’t commit.

Gross wanted the IP Detectives,”…to have an understanding of the investigative needs and to see the whole investigative and judicial process an endeavor that should be rooted in the empirical sciences.” Gross was obviously ahead of his time when it came to thinking how the investigation of criminals could be advanced by utilizing the sciences.


The need for law enforcement officials to utilize the IP system, specifically in the major crimes area is definitely needed. The ever educated perpetrator approaches, for the most part, committing crimes with a new sense of confidence; how to commit the crimes and how not to get apprehended. Profiling and apprehending sexual offenders is at its highest priority in the criminal justice system.

The goal to protect children from being sexually abused places law enforcement in the position to apprehend sexual offenders who have turned not to only sexually assaulting children but to murdering them.

The new sex crimes laws place the sexual offender at a disadvantage. The sexual offender may as well murder the child victim, as a dead witness cannot speak. In 44 states Jessica’s Law was passed, now putting the convicted sexual offenders away for life. The attitude by the sexual offenders is murdering the child will not add too many years to a life citizen. Jessica’s law takes the sexual offender off the street, but places the child victim at a much greater risk to be physically assaulted and/or murdered.

Tomorrow, we will continue our understanding of the IP system and how it has survived the past three centuries. One of the main issues not addressed as of yet, is the lack of the utilization of law enforcement officials using the IP system over the past three centuries and why not.  It is my intention to explore further what is happening in the past century of using the IP system and how successful these techniques have been for law enforcement.

We will continue to examine just how sexual offenders are coming into your communities and sexually assaulting young children and adults. The need to educate and train law enforcement officers has never been so important.  Law enforcement officials need to continue their plight in understanding the local child sexual abuse crimes and how to deal with them. We will explore if the IP system will help with the sexual offenders and their committing of crimes.

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